EURHO Congress

Leuven - September, 11th-14th 2017

"Fertilisers in the long 19th century and beyond: Usage, commercialisation and production (c 1800-1939)"

Off-farm manure and commercial fertilisers were major elements of the first green revolution in Europe during the nineteenth century. The study of increasing production and consumption of nitrate after WWI constitute a lively topic (Smil 2001, Travis 2015, Arnaud Page forthcoming, Johnson 2016, PhD Strotmann, forthcoming), but indeed the use of commercial (organic, artificial, mineral, synthetic) fertilisers increased well before the 1920s. From the end of the French war on, usage of “noir animal” or carbonized bones became widespread in large parts of Europe (Bourrigaud 1994 for France). From the 1840s on, guano from Peru was used – in Europe and beyond. (Mathew 1981, for the US see Skaggs 1994). From the 1850s on, mineral phosphates became widespread. After the Pacific war huge amounts of nitrate of soda were send from Chili. Potassium and basic slag (by-product of steelworks) were bought and sold in all of Europe. Finally, the phosphates of Maghreb (first Tunisia and Algeria, then Morocco from the end 1900s) and the Haber-Bosch process increased by manifold the availability of chemical compounds for agriculture.

Historians and sociologists paid attention to several issues :

  • Science and legal debates to assess the very own qualities of commercial fertilisers (Jas for France, Uekötter 2010 for Germany) renewed by the issue of the nitrogen cycle (Leigh 2008, Gorman 2013).
  • International trade (Barbance 1969, Mathew 1981) in the wake of the first globalization.
  • Global metabolic rift (Clark and Foster 2009).
  • Imperialism and sovereignty of oversee countries (De Sacada 1985, O’Brien 1979, 1980, Mathew 1972, Vizcara 2009, Skaggs 1994, etc.)

If the knowledge from a global agrarian perspective is now quite well known, paradoxically, the commercialization, the concrete practices, the experimentations and the diffusion of knowledge among (European) farmers deserve much more studies.

The first aim of this session is to reassess the importance of commercial fertilisers in agriculture before WWII. The second aim is to better understand the commercial practices of the firms which were involved in the production and commercialisation of fertilisers. We also pay attention to alternative uses of chemical compounds and especially to the recycling process (basic slag, etc.) and synthetic fertiliser (calcium cyanamide, etc.)

We invite applications from papers dealing with these issues in the time period between ca. 1800 and 1945. Even though the panel will focus on European practices, we are very interested in applications covering other areas.

Please send an abstract of maximum 250 words and a short biographical note to : by September 30 2016.

Informations pratiques

Date(s) limite(s)
  • Vendredi 30 septembre 2016 - 00:00
Laurent Herment