Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226693835 Published April 2020
E-book $10.00 to $49.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226693972 Published April 2020 Also Available From

The Nature of the Future

Agriculture, Science, and Capitalism in the Antebellum North

Emily Pawley

The Nature of the Future

Emily Pawley

312 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226693835 Published April 2020
E-book $10.00 to $49.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226693972 Published April 2020
The nostalgic mist surrounding farms can make it hard to write their history, encrusting them with stereotypical rural virtues and unrealistically separating them from markets, capitalism, and urban influences. The Nature of the Future aims to remake this staid vision. Emily Pawley examines a place and period of enormous agricultural vitality—antebellum New York State—and follows thousands of “improving agriculturists,” part of the largest, most diverse, and most active scientific community in nineteenth-century America. Pawley shows that these improvers practiced a kind of science hard for contemporary readers to recognize, in which profit was not only a goal but also the underlying purpose of the natural world. Far from producing a more rational vision of nature, northern farmers practiced a form of science where conflicting visions of the future landscape appeared and evaporated in quick succession. Drawing from environmental history, US history and the history of science, and extensively mining a wealth of antebellum agricultural publications, The Nature of the Future uncovers the rich loam hiding beneath ostensibly infertile scholarly terrain, revealing a surprising area of agricultural experimentation that transformed American landscapes and American ideas of expertise, success, and exploitation.
Introduction: Bending Reality with Large Strawberries

Part 1 Performances

1 Capitalist Aristocracy
2 No Ordinary Farmers

Part 2 Experiments

3 Experiments All for Worldly Gain
4 Trying Machines

Part 3 Futures
5 Coining Foliage into Gold
6 Divining Adaptation

Part 4 Values

7 Truth in Fruit
8 The Balance-Sheet of Nature


List of Abbreviations
Review Quotes
Environmental History
"Pawley has written a powerful book that should shatter popular myths that portray antebellum rural New York as a “virtuous, sentimental, unchanging” bastion of the family farm. . . . This is an important story that should be foundational reading for anyone interested in the roots of our modern food system. . . . Scholars of capitalism and the environment will find much to mine in Pawley’s book."
Wendy A. Woloson, author of Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America
The Nature of the Future is a crisply written and lively account of agricultural improvement in the antebellum Northeast. Come for the mammoth squashes, drunken plants, and butter battles; stay for the incisive and illuminating history, brilliantly told.”
Conevery Bolton Valencius, author of The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes
“In this book, Pawley deftly hands us invention, experimentation, evidence, truth . . . and mulberries. In nineteenth-century bookkeeping of field nutrients, raucous debates over apple varieties, and Thoreau’s sarcasm, she discovers the science, economics, and commercial imagination that shaped American farming and our modern meals. The writing is a delight—insightful, sure, and often funny. The Nature of the Future will be of keen interest to historians of capitalism, place, and food—and to anyone helping chart our environmental present.”
Jessica M. Lepler, author of The Many Panics of 1837
“Pawley shatters historians’ preconceptions about who and what belong in the histories of science and capitalism. Even the animals, plants, and soils have captivating pasts. Vivid and witty, this book rewrites the history of the early US from the perspective of those who fed it.”
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