Economics and Utopia: Early Modern European Agricultural Literature in the Courtly and Academic Environment

Kupferstich aus: Chrispyn de Passe, Compendium operum virgilianorum,
Arnheim 1612

The paramount importance of agriculture to the early modern economy is reflected in the extensive literature brought forth on this issue in the 16th and 17th century. Besides editions, commentaries and translations of ancient writers on agriculture – occasionally joined by medieval authors like Pietro de' Crescenzi – the 16th century saw a new kind of agricultural literature being produced, mainly in the vernacular, that paid special attention to experiential aspects. A strong underlying current for this came from south of the Alps, from the so-called villa literature, which offered guidance in the running of country houses to the traditionally urban elites of Northern Italy and combined practical economic advice with the praise of country life and the call for imitation. Early modern treatises on agriculture were strongly influenced by idealized and normative concepts. Inspired by Roman literature and the moral integrity it ascribed to the maiores, villa literature became a medium of expression of  the nobility's self-assurance.

The function that the literary approach to farming had in 16th and 17th-century Northern Germany, and the role played by classical  agricultural writers as well as more contemporary writers from Italy and France, are the questions asked by this project. It examines normative ideas in early modern farming literature and analyzes the underlying political and religious objectives. The collections of the Herzog August Bibliothek, which provide an insight into both the court and the academic milieu, are the starting point for this investigation. The project combines the analysis of the texts themselves, special consideration of paratexts such as prefaces and dedicatory poems, the question of collection profiles as well as the examination of specific details in individual books and other evidence of reception.


Funding: HAB
Duration: January 2014 – December 2016
Researcher: Dr. Hartmut Beyer
Phone: +49(0)5331-808-372, Fax -173