Agricultural History

What is the relevance of animal traction in the 21st century? Some experiences from the 65th World Ploughing Championship in Einsiedel (Germany)

Zusammenfassung (Abstract):

Basierend auf selbst gemachten Erfahrungen der 65. Pflügerweltmeisterschaft im baden-württembergischen Einsiedeln im Jahr 2018, stellt der Autor die Frage nach der Relevanz von tierischer Anspannung im 21. Jahrhundert. Während in Einsiedeln eine Zuordnung derselben eher in agrarhistorische Zusammenhänge oder als schmückendes Beiwerk deutlich wurde, kann aus den Erfahrungen von Institutionen wie Tillers International oder der modernen Forstwirtschaft eine weitaus höhere Relevanz nachgezeichnet werden. Letztlich plädiert der Autor für eine Stärkung der Tierischen Anspannung nicht nur in einer kulturhistorischen, sondern auch auf der praktischen Ebene.

Keywords

Animal Traction – World Ploughing Championship – Oxen – Horses – Sustainability – Forestry – Agriculture  

On September 1st and 2nd 2018, the 65th World Ploughing Championship took place at the Einsiedel farm estate in Germany. The world´s best ploughers from more than 30 countries competed in stubble and grassland competitions, each with reversible and conventional ploughs and of course – with tractors.

Grassland competition at the World Ploughing Championship 2018 (picture: Claus Kropp)

Alongside the championship itself, the organizers presented a vast supporting program ranging from old-timer tractor shows, regional delicacies, performances and speeches as well as demonstrations of cutting-edge agricultural technology. Another part of the supporting program was the Baden-Württemberg Open Competition for Horse Ploughing and the Hohenheim Field with steam plough demonstrations, featuring the motto “Soil Cultivation in Changing Times”.

Ploughing team at the Baden-Württemberg Open Competition for Horse Ploughing as part of the supporting program of the World Ploughing Championship (picture: Claus Kropp)
Ploughing with draft oxen and (re)constructed medieval plough at the Hohenheim Field Days (picture: Claus Kropp)

Coming from the Lauresham Open Air Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology in southern Germany, we were able to become part of these Hohenheim Field Days with one of our draft oxen and a (re)constructed medieval plough. We also had the chance to present our work and research at the (re)constructed Early Medieval manor with an information desk alongside those of other institutions, associations and museums. Besides being busy with ploughing demonstrations and talking to many interested visitors, I had the chance to take a closer look at the way animal draft power was presented and valued within the event. I asked myself: what is the relevance of animal traction in the 21st century? Judging from the event itself, you could say it is just a relic of a time long gone, a nice thing to have and to preserve as part of our cultural and historical heritage. This can be emphasized with the fact that even the State Horse Ploughing championship was only listed in the supporting program.

I agree one hundred percent that animal draft power is a valuable part of our agricultural past and that agricultural museums need to preserve this knowledge and these practices. In this respect it was right to schedule our ploughing presentation within the “Soil Cultivation in Changing Times” of the Field Days. I nevertheless completely disagree that animal draft power does not play a valuable role in the 21st century and I would have wished that it had been presented not only as a relic of the past but also as an innovative and effective way to cope with the sustainability challenges of our present time. Let me emphasize this with some examples: Looking at the long work of Tillers International in Africa and other continents, it can be strongly stated that – considering the circumstances – ploughing with draft cattle can still be the most economic and efficient way of soil cultivation – not to speak of the most sustainable. The traditional utilization of cattle as three-use-animals (meat, milk and work) plays a key role in this respect. This can also be said for some aspects of modern forestry: In many ways horse- and to some extent also ox-logging once again became effective modern ways of working through a new understanding of sustainable forest management.

It is well known that logging with draft animals ensures far better soil protection than larger forestry machinery (e.g. Harvester) could ever accomplish. It can also be an economic and valuable alternative to heavy machinery when working in steep terrain. I myself had the great opportunity to meet one of the most experienced oxdrivers from France, Philippe Kuhlmann, and he showed me very impressively on his farm that there is no better alternative for him than ox-logging considering his forests lie in the middle of the Vosges Mountains. Both the cows (from which he also produces tasty cheese and which he still milks by hand) and the males (be it bulls of oxen) are used for logging purposes. This was another key moment for me to understand that even in our high-tech society draft animals can play their part.

Vosges cattle working at the farm of Philippe Kuhlmann (picture: Claus Kropp)

Coming back to my experiences at the World Ploughing Championship, I can onlyplead strongly to promote draft animal power in a different way in the future: strengthen the value of it as an important part of our cultural history but at the same time emphasize the use of it today – and tomorrow. In a way, the organizers of future large scale events like this could learn from the way agricultural museums operate around the globe in opening a window onto our past and providing pathways towards our future.

Claus Kropp
Manager Lauresham Open Air Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology
(Germany)

Summer Grain Harvest

AIMA member sites use tools representative of their time and place to harvest grains. The presenters at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, use a Johnston Harvesting Company Self-Rake reaper to cut Turkey Red Wheat. The farm interprets the birthplace of Harvey Firestone, and was moved to Greenfield Village from Columbiana County, Ohio in the early 1980s. This reaper represents the type of machinery that Harvey and his brothers may have seen (or may have operated) on their family farm.

American Literature and Agricultural Lessons

I’m pulling a panel together for Rural History 2017 (Leuven, Belgium, 11-14 September) on the following topic:

American literature with rural or agricultural content taught in European schools.

If you studied an American novel in school in Europe (grades before university) please post the author, title and brief summary of how the literature was included in lessons (English language instruction, American Studies, literature). For example, during the 1990s, 7th graders in Denmark read Richard Wright’s Black Boy as they learned the English language and studied race and racism. Panelists will put the rural and agricultural history in selected novels into historic context. It became evident during conversations with conference attendees during Rural History 2015 that a session on historic literature would appeal to conference registrants, and it sounds like fun!

Rural History 2017

Call for Panels
Rural History 2017
11-14 September 2017
Leuven, Belgium

It is a pleasure to announce Rural History 2017, the third biennial conference of the European Rural History Organisation (EURHO). The EURHO conferences aim at promoting the exchange of research questions and results, fostering co-operation between scholars engaged in the history of rural Europe and of its interaction with other parts of the world, from ancient times up to the present. Consequently the conferences are open to all interesting proposals within a broad range of themes and covering different historical periods and regions.

The forthcoming conference will take place in Leuven (Belgium) from Monday 11 to Thursday 14 September 2017. The organisation is in the hands of ICAG (the Interfaculty Center for Agrarian History, University of Leuven), in collaboration with the CORN (Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area) research network.

For Rural History 2017, we encourage participants to present their newest and most promising research. We particularly welcome panels and papers which introduce unknown source material, develop new concepts or methods, and explore the connections between rural history and related research fields, such as archaeology, colonial history, environmental history, food and urban history, demography, anthropology, gender studies, etc, via a comparative, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach.

The conference program will consist of 2 hour panel sessions on specific topics, with a maximum of four related papers per panel; double sessions on a particular topic are possible.

We require all panels to be made up internationally, with papers relating to at least two different countries, and we particularly welcome participants who are at the early stages of their research. To avoid an overfull conference program, participants are asked to limit themselves to the presentation of a maximum of two papers. Because Rural History 2017 wants to avoid the repetition of papers that have already been presented at another conference, we also ask you to restrict yourself to newer research.

With this call, we invite the submission of panel proposals. These proposals should consist of the panel’s title, the full name and affiliation of the (co-)organiser(s), a short abstract (up to 500 words) that clearly describes its scope, research question(s) and purpose, and the name and affiliation of at least two speakers.

The deadline for panel proposals is 15 October 2016.
Only online submission via the conference website at www.ruralhistory2017.be can be taken into consideration by the Scientific Committee.

Important dates:

  • 15 October 2016: Deadline for panel submissions
  • 1 December 2016: Notification of acceptance of selected panels & Call for individual papers
  • 31 January 2017: Deadline for paper submissions
  • 28 February 2017: Notification of acceptance of selected papers & Applications for student grants
  • 15 March 2017: Preliminary program online & Opening of registration
  • 1 June 2017: Deadline for early registration
  • 1 July 2017: Deadline for late registration & Final conference program online & Invitation to upload full papers
  • 1 September 2017: Deadline for uploading of full papers
  • 11-14 September 2017: Conference

Conference webpage: http://www.ruralhistory2017.be