Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean


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Does this irony undermine the basic idea that a slower, less distracted pace of life is better? Certainly, the intense pace of life experienced by farmers in a preindustrial economy was not conducive to long, healthy lives. In fact, Halstead points out that the toil of harvesting alone was something that 20 or 30 years olds could endure best, but older folks — you know, in their 40s! Maybe remembering this will help us keep our rhetoric in check a bit.

Slowing down and unplugging are modern indulgences available to a very small number of individuals in the wealthy, western world.

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Like this: Like Loading Next Post Next Post. The next looks at longer-term planning: clearing land, terracing, drainage, balancing subsistence and cash crops, livestock, the domestic cycle from having young children to support to having surplus labor from teenagers and young adults , negotiating with the larger community, and the last chapter addresses the value of comparison for understanding the past.

Throughout, Halstead emphasizes the variety of strategies employed under different conditions, including the nature of the land, the livestock and labor available, and the circumstances of particular years.

Two Oxen Ahead : Pre-Mechanized Farming in the Mediterranean

A small and irregular plot will be cultivated by hand with a hoe, and the seed dibbled or planted in a row; a larger field is plowed and the sower broadcasts. Sheep can be lightly grazed on such a crop so that it does not grow too high, but then if the spring rains are not good, the crop may not recover. Halstead argues that local variation has always been greater than the changes in Mediterranean conditions over time, and that changes in vegetation and soil can be documented and incorporated in our understanding of date, but that the basic challenges of farming are still comparable.

Farmers are more rational than scholars have often thought—farmers who explicitly base their practice on tradition are often selecting among alternatives and basing their decisions both on experience and on a varied repertory of traditional sayings.


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Modern analogy is to be used heuristically. It does not tell us what people did in the past, but helps formulate questions and provide possible interpretations of the evidence. He lists ten issues that analogy usefully illuminates: the flexibility of actual farming practice; how a decision at one stage of production has effects through the cycle; how complex the calculations of costs and benefits can be; the importance of scale; buffering strategies, since production is uncertain year to year; how the cycle of family life brings both difficulties and opportunities; the integral role of livestock; the importance of exchanges of labor, livestock, land, and food; the way markets can increase inequality; the hierarchy of grain crops may be a better example of diffusion than developments in technology I am not sure about this last.

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Inequality is a concern throughout. The book shows just how false that is.

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Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean
Two oxen ahead : pre-mechanized farming in the Mediterranean

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