A societal history of potato knowledge

In a recent article in Scandinavian Journal of History, Erik Bodensten examines the societal history of potato knowledge in early modern Sweden.

In the early nineteenth century, the potato became an important staple crop in Sweden. This transformation proved highly important to Swedish society, as it helped secure the rapid population growth then underway. However, for this change to come about, ordinary men and women first had to learn about the new crop and the great benefits it offered. This article explores this communication process and, in particular, the moment when a specific set of knowledge of the potato was first successfully and widely communicated to the public and established as authoritative in society at large.

The article shows that knowledge of the potato was transformed significantly as it crossed social, spatial, and media boundaries. The societal breakthrough –which only came in 1749–50– was not the result of a linear, cumulative diffusion process dating from the initial knowledge intervention in the 1650s, nor from the subsequent knowledge circulation process during the latter seventeenth-century. Instead, it was the result of a particular knowledge network, long devoted to promoting the potato, finally gaining influence over important knowledge institutions, thus making mass communication possible.

In the 1720s and 1730s, this network redefined the potato in the context of agriculture and especially in relation to the phenomenon of famine and crop failure. In the subsequent period, this revised knowledge became increasingly relevant to Swedish society, as the elite became ever more concerned with food security, population policy, and agricultural and fiscal reforms. Finally, following a severe crop failure in the 1740s, political support for a broad knowledge intervention was secured.

Read the full text here:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03468755.2020.1752301

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