This conference aims to supply a major deficiency in the literature of the British countryside, the lack of any systematic consideration of the farmer. Whilst the labourer and the landowning aristocrat have been the subject of countless monographs, we have yet to engage with the group in the middle: who was the farmer?
In cultural terms, the answer is not, and never has been, straight-forward. In the eighteenth century, the farmer was, by turns, the heroic John Bull whose efforts helped England survive the challenges of the French revolutionary wars, and the effete creature who had forsaken the farmyard for the hunting field, whilst his wife lounged in an expensively furnished (and implicitly Frenchified)drawing room, listening to their daughter's efforts on the newly acquired pianoforte, and neglecting the work of the dairy. Modern opinion has been no less Janus-faced: in the early twenty-first century, the British farmer has been portrayed as both victim of European bureaucratic and nationalistic victimisation over beef exports, and himself the villainous producer of 'Frankenstein foods'.
This conference seeks to answer the problem by inviting papers which supply either economic definitions of the farmer - studies which concentrate on acreage and yield, etc - or approach the issue in more indirect, cultural terms.
Offers of papers which explore any aspect of this problem are welcome. The Conference itself will take place at the Centre for Rural History at the University of Reading on 18 September 2001.
University of Hertfordshire
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