Chapter 6 Peasants and Farmers
Explain briefly what the open field system meant to rural people in eighteenth-century England.
Look at the system from the point of view of:
(a) A rich farmer:
Ans. The open-field system was not beneficial to the rich farmer because he could not have exclusive control of the commons. He could not expand his area under cultivation beyond the strips which were allocated at the beginning of the year.
(b) A labourer:
Ans. This system was beneficial to labourer because it provided additional sources of livelihood. The labourer could hunt rabbits and catch fish for getting some nutritious food. The commons provided some source of livelihood during off-seasons when farm work was not available. They pastured their cows and grazed their sheep.
(c) A peasant woman:
Ans. For a peasant woman, the commons provided ample space for collecting firewood, fruits, and berries.
Explain briefly the factors which led to the enclosures in England.
Individual landlords usually created the early enclosures. The state or the church did not support them. After the mid-eighteenth century, however, the enclosure movement swept through the countryside, changing the English landscape forever. Between 1750 and 1850, 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British Parliament no longer watched this process from a distance. It passed 4,000 acts legalising these enclosures. The new enclosures were different from the old. Unlike the sixteenth-century enclosures that promoted sheep farming, the land being enclosed in the late eighteenth century was for grain production. The new enclosures were happening in a different context; they became a sign of a changing time.
Why were threshing machines opposed by the poor in England?
Threshing machines reduced the need for manual labour. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, many soldiers who came back to villages could not find jobs because of threshing machines. For them, the threshing machine was a symbol of joblessness and hence they opposed the threshing machines.
Who was Captain Swing? What did the name symbolise or represent?
Captain Swing was a mythical person. During the riots, the letters seeking to destroy threshing machines and farmhouses left by the rioters-carried the signature of Captain Swing. The name symbolised the protest of the poor against the rich farmers and against the new technology.
What was the impact of the westward expansion of settlers in the USA?
By the early twentieth century, this landscape had transformed radically. White Americans had moved westward and established control up to the west coast, displacing local tribes and carving out the entire landscape into different agricultural belts. The USA had come to dominate the world market in agricultural produce. The story of agrarian expansion is closely connected to the westward movement of the white settlers who took over the land.
After the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783 and the formation of the United States of America, the white Americans began to move westward. By the time Thomas Jefferson became President of the USA in 1800, over 700,000 white settlers had moved on to the Appalachian plateau through the passes. Seen from the east coast, America seemed to be a land of promise. Its wilderness could be turned into cultivated fields.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of the use of mechanical harvesting machines in the USA?
Advantages and Disadvantages
For the big farmers of the Great Plains, the mechanical harvesting machines had many attractions. The prices of wheat were high and the demand seemed limitless. The new machines allowed these big farmers to rapidly clear large tracts, break up the soil, remove the grass and prepare the ground for cultivation. The work could be done quickly and with a minimal number of hands. With power-driven machinery, four men could plough, seed, and harvest 2,000 to 4,000 acres of wheat in a season.
For the poorer farmers, machines brought misery. Many of them bought these machines, imagining that wheat prices would remain high and profits would flow in. If they had no money, the banks offered loans. Those who borrowed found it difficult to pay back their debts. Many of them deserted their farms and looked for jobs elsewhere. But jobs were difficult to find.
Mechanisation had reduced the need for labor. And the boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seemed to have come to an end by the mid- the 1920s. After that, most farmers faced trouble. Production had expanded so rapidly during the war and post-war years that there was a large surplus. Unsold stocks piled up, storehouses overflowed with grain, and vast amounts of corn and wheat were turned into animal feed. Wheat prices fell and export markets collapsed. This created the grounds for the Great Agrarian Depression of the 1930s that ruined wheat farmers everywhere.
What lessons can we draw from the conversion of the countryside in the USA from a bread basket to a dust bowl?
The conversion of the US countryside from a bread basket to a dust bowl teaches the importance of conservation of the ecosystem. Human development cannot take place at the cost of the natural environment. We need to respect nature and maintain its form in every possible way.
Write a paragraph on why the British insisted on farmers growing opium in India.
The British were heavily dependent on China for tea imports. Since the Chinese authority did not allow foreign goods, so the British had to pay for tea in silver and billions. This had the potential danger of empting off the treasure of Britain. Opium was sought to be the commodity that could be easily smuggled into China. Profits from opium trade could thus be utilised to finance the tea imports. Therefore, the British insisted on farmers in India to grow opium.
Why were Indian farmers reluctant to grow opium?
The Indian farmers were reluctant to grow opium, as they wanted to produce opium at a cheap rate and sell it at a high price to opium agents in Calcutta, who then shipped it to China. This difference between the buying and selling price was the government’s opium revenue. The prices given to the peasants were so low that by the early eighteenth century angry peasants began agitating for higher prices and refused to take advances. In regions around Benaras, cultivators began giving up opium cultivation. They produced sugarcane and potatoes instead. Many cultivators sold off their crop to traveling traders (pykars) who offered higher prices.