Digging the Past: Writing and Agriculture in the Seventeenth Century (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2018 weekend seminar led by Frances E. Dolan

This seminar will focus on English texts that promoted new crops and agricultural methods in the hopes of creating a more varied, reliable, and abundant food supply—and attracting investment in colonial ventures. Eager amateurs experimented with amending soil, making wine and cider, importing seeds and plant starts, and naturalizing those plants by outwitting the climate. Books, ancient and new, informed these experiments, which, in turn, yielded more texts, from letters, travel narratives, notebooks, plays, and poems to how-to guides. Sampling this variety, up to sixteen participants will also trace the influence of ancient writers, including Pliny and Columella, and explore how metaphors—such as the earth as a hungry mouth—persist from antiquity to the early modern period to pitches for agricultural reforms today. The seminar will include a field trip to farmer-writer Forrest Pritchard’s Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville, Virginia, to investigate the still fertile connections between agriculture and writing. Faculty and advanced graduate students with research interests in any aspect of agriculture and food in the early modern period are welcome to apply. Participants’ interests will determine the readings.

Director: Frances E. Dolan, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California at Davis, is an award-winning teacher and the author of five books, most recently True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England (2013). Her current project brings past and present proposals for agricultural reform into dialogue, focusing on soil, local food, wine, and hedgerows.