Peasants and Their Fields: The Rationale of Open-Field Agriculture, C. 700-1800 (Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area, Book 16)
In the middle ages and the early modern period open fields couldbe found in many if not most countries of Europe. They took a widevariety of forms, but can in essence be defined as areas ofcultivated land in which the intermingled plots of differentcultivators, without upstanding physical boundaries, were subjectto some degree of communal management, in terms of cropping andgrazing. Sometimes such fields occupied a high proportion of theland in a district, but often they formed a relatively minorelement in landscapes which also contained enclosed fields,woodland or expanses of pasture. In some areas, open-fieldagriculture had already been abandoned before the end of the middleages, but in others it continued to flourish into the nineteenth oreven twentieth centuries. Although open fields have long beenstudied, by geographers, historians and archaeologists, much abouttheir origins, development and rationale remains contentious. Why,across wide areas of Europe, did such fields sometimes becomecentral to the experience of so many of our ancestors, shaping notonly farming practices but also the basic structures of theireveryday lives? And why, in contrast, did they fail to develop, orhave a less significant role, elsewhere? Over recent decades openfields have been investigated in new, interdisciplinary ways, andas a Europe-wide phenomenon. In this book, more than ever before,their development and operation are explained in terms of economic,social, agrarian and environmental developments which were shared,to varying degrees, by all parts of the Continent. It contains tennew studies from a wide range of regions, together with importantcomparative research from south America and Japan. This collectionof essays represents a milestone in the study of open-fieldagriculture, and is a major contribution to the study of therationale of field systems more generally.