Absenteism | Acquisition tools | Agrarian villages | Agricultural complexes | Agricultural information | Agricultural productivism | Agricultural teaching | Agro-food industries | Animal-powered agriculture | Archeological cultures | Automobile
Capitalism | Chemical fertilizers | Centers for training and propagation of agriculture | Cereals | City-states | Colonization | Containers | Cooked food | Cooking | Cotton (King) | Crossing | Cuisine | Cultural development
Dependency of farmers | Discovery (plants of the) | Domesticated fire | Domestication
Economie-Monde | Experimentation and demonstration
Feudalism | Food complexes | Food costs for the consumer | Food fieldFree trade
Hearth | Household equipment | Houses | Human times
King Cotton
Manual agriculture | Mass consumption | Mechanized agriculture | Middle-East center | Migrations
Neolithic times | New Agriculture  | Number of inhabitants per active workerNutrition | Nutritional field
Plantation agriculture | Plants of the Discovery | Plough | Pottery | Primary school teaching | Pre-history | Productivity of land and work | Purchasing power
Railways | Refrigerated transport | Rural population drop
Selection | Steamships | Swing plough
Understanding a tool | Use of auxillary power
Young countries



Free and obligatory teaching at last made it possible to provide education for the paysants, but it did not occur without difficulty. Rural teachers had to fight against absenteeism because of the practice of putting children to work at an early age. By these means and others, rural teachers played a major role in the evolution of the country.

Back to Index | Cf : From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices

Acquisition tools

This terminology applies to tools from the pre-agricultural period which were used in the collection of  « wild foods ». These tools included digging sticks, poles for beating fruits from trees, rakes used to collect plants, harpoons, fishing hooks, javelins, traps, and tools to kill animals during hunting (cf : Leroi-Gourhan, 1973, ed. A.Michel).

Back to Index | Cf : Man as a predator | Beginning of agriculture | Agricultural and food techniques

Agrarian villages

Generally, a village consists of a small number of farmer’s houses (def.) gathered together. The agrarian village provides evidence of a collective life (common houses « the commons », a common well), a protective defense (fortifications= surrounding wall), solidarity or interdependence and social interaction (festivities).
Neither village archeology nor grave archeology allow us to assert the existence of social classes.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns...

Agricultural complexes

The founder species of the Euro-Mediterranean agriculture, include plants containing sugars (cereals), proteins (legumes), and lipids (the ones containing fat). To these plants man in his diet added animal products coming from husbandry (milk and meat) . Agriculture and animal breeding, co-existed with gathering and hunting during a long period, thus contributing to a great diversity of foods.

Back to Index | Cf : Founder species

Agricultural information

At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, in several European countries the government gave the impulse to create information centers for farmers. In these centers, conferences, organization of demonstration fields, informative papers and winter lectures, contributed to the spread of « good techniques », as a result of proving the advantage of using these techniques. Simultaneously, companies producing chemical fertilizers (def.), phytosanitary and selection (def.) products, agricultural mecanisms, etc. developed active publicity promoting the use of their products.
Agricultural societies and « comices » encouraged better yields and quality, especially in developing agricultural contests.

Back to Index | Cf : From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices

Agricultural productivism

The increase in production during the 19th century was the result of artificial selection (def.), crossings (def.), and improvement of animal and plant nutrition (def.), as well as protection of species against deseases and pests, and more generally speaking the result of scientific development. The enlargement of education and agricultural information contributed to changing people’s minds and to the adoption of a more rational behaviour among farmers. Thus, a new step forward was made in the cultural development of man whereby for the first time in History, science played a major role.
The New agriculture (def.) bloomed and beyond it the narrowing gap between science and applications will lead to a cumulative process in the second half of the 20th century, resulting in a highly productive agriculture.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences | From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices | Introduction of new agricultural techniques

Agricultural teaching

Gradually, a three level educational system (local, regional and national) was created in most of the European countries at the end of the 19th or at the beginning of the 20th century.
High level teaching (university) was reserved for agricultural managers and big companies. In France, under the influence of the physiocrats, the veterinary schools of Lyon and Alfort were created from the end of the 18th century, and during the 19th century, « the schools of agriculture  for higher education», at Grignon, Rennes and Montpellier were formed. In 1876, the National Agricultural Institute was created and the University system created the Agricultural Institute of Nancy (1901) and Toulouse (1909).
Agricultural teaching for farmers would be more fully developed only after World war II.

Back to Index | Cf : From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices

Agro-food industries

The industrialization of the transformation of basic agricultural foods was realized by means of new techniques (preservation, concentration (condensing) and extraction, substitution,etc...) and of a double shift from agricultural and domestic activities into agro-food industries.
In 1804, Nicolas Appert (1749-1841) invented a new way of preserving food by sterilization ;  the first preserve factory was built in France in 1860. Pasteur gave a scientific basis to sterilization, and a new process called « pasteurization » was applied to various fields. At the end of the 19th century, Nestlé invented condensed milk, and Liebig developed beef extracts and dry concentrated soups ; in 1869, Mege-Mouriès mastered the process of producing margarine.
Little by little, agro-industrial products replaced agricultural products (e.g., industrial butter replaced dairy butter), and, more recently, ready-made food-products (def.) helped reduce domestic activities (fast-foods, pre-cooked and ready-made meals). Agro-food industries were soon fully expanded.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning and development of the Agro-food industry

Animal-powered agriculture

The substantial progress made during the agricultural period is linked to animal domestication and to the use of animal energy to pull the carts and wagons, the swing ploughs and the ploughs.
Egypt and Mesopotamia apparently did not use animals to work in the fields before 4000 BP, and North-western Europe not before 2500 BP. The first domesticated animals such as oxen, cows and donkeys, were first used more frequently to carry, then later to pull the first cultivating tools : swing ploughs then ploughs, as well as harrows.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Agricultural and food techniques

Archeological cultures

Prehistorical archeology is an important basis of knowledge for prehistoric societies. Earthenware, easy to shape, offers numerous shapes and various decorations. Because it remains well preserved for centuries, it allows the classification of ancient cultural social groups. One can identify different archeological cultures  as well as particular cultural chronologies by using the earthenware left behind by former cultures.

Back to Index | Cf : Pots and containers


At the end of the 19th century, short distance transportation was still mostly done by animal powered vehicles. Bicycles and motorcycles started the revolution of self-propelled vehicles.  But the four wheeled car with a gasoline engine was tremendously successful. After Henry Ford succeeded in developing mass production, motorcars became a symbol of the mass consumption society.

Back to Index | Cf : Revolution in transportation




The new production system replacing feudalism (def.) was called capitalism. Its characteristics are the relationships between the owners of the means of production (landlords) and the workers (employees), who are the task force. Industrial and liberal capitalism was born from the double revolution in industry and in social organization that took place in the 18th century.

Back to Index | Cf :  Evolution or Revolution?

Centers for training and propagation of agriculture

The domestication (def.) of species occurred in several areas, all over the world within the 10 000 years before the Christian Era ; these areas included the Middle-East, Africa, Western China, South-East Asia and Southern Pacific, Meso-America, and South America. According to Harlan (cf : Man and the cultivated plants, 1987), three areas played a major role in the spreading of cultivated plants :  the Middle-East, Meso-America, and Western China.

Retour Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | L'origine géographique de l'agriculture | Early animal domestication centers | Founder species


Nearly everywhere, cereals are the sugar basis of the food complexes formed in the Neolithic times (def.). Unknown in a wild state in Europe, they were pre-domesticated in The Middle-East (def.), where they became relatively numerous in some areas. From The Middle-East they were transferred to the Euro-Mediterranean area. The ancient cereals are wheat and oat.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Geographical areas for early agriculture | Founder species

Chemical fertilizers

The main use of fertilizer is to bring useful elements to plants. They contribute, more or less rapidly, to plant nutrition by adding major nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P and K), and secondary elements such as calcium, sulphur, magnesium and sodium (Ca, S, Mg and Na) and also oligo-elements.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences


City-states were formed in Mesopotamia around 3000 years BP. They represent a place of power, of built-up wealth, of social inequity. Architecture (royal palaces, churches, mansions, storage warehouses especially for cereals), and urbanism (central, residencial and popular town areas) testify to separate functions and of the inegalitarian structure of the city-states. The City-states ruled over a more or less substancial area of countryside which produced the necessary food for their inhabitants.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns,...


European colonization was evident as early as the 15th century, after the discovery of America. But it reached its greatest development at the end of the 19th century. In January, 1877, Queen Victoria was the sacred imperatrice of the Indies, underlining the triumph of the Britanic colonial empire. France soon built the second largest colonial empire. French people settled in Northern Africa, in black Africa and in Asia (Indochina). Around 1910 the world domination by Europeans was practically finished.
The result of colonization is not easy to measure, and opinions differ on this matter. Undoubtedly it faciliated exchanges inside empires, and it also had enormous consequences for agricultural and food economies. It also contributed to the development of international partitioning of agricultural work, plantation agriculture (def.), and the concurrent availability of products from  tropical and temperate climates. It also facilitated population migrations (def.) and tranfers of technology.  Finally, colonization contributed to food diversification.

Bact to Index | Cf : Toward a worldwide economy


Man first used all the natural containers Nature could provide, for cooking (def.) and for food preservation. An animal can be cooked in its own skin, a mollusc in its shell, and a mix of different foods in tortoise-shells.  But, as a matter of fact, pottery provides the ideal container to ease and develop cooking techniques.

Back to Index | Cf : Pots and containers


Cooked food

The first cooked food was probably roasted seeds (cereals, chestnuts,...) or roots and tubers cooked under ashes, etc. Later came soups, porridges, thick pancakes, and bread. Back to Index | Cf : Emergence of cooked food


There are several ways of cooking : over dry flames, on flaming charcoal, under hot ashes, on heated stones, steamed, in water heated by introducing hot stones into it, or else in a fireproof container. According to J.Barrau : In this long range history of food techniques, an important step forward was made when these men (...) invented moist cooking. It allowed a greater diversity of diets and flavors, as well as a broader variety of mixed foods in the same container.

Back to Index | Cf : Emergence of cooked food


Artificial selection (def.) is based on a thoughtful choice from breeders in order to improve varieties and races according to the economic goals of man.
Crossing between two genetically different parental lineages, allows the creation of new varieties and new races of animals.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences


According to Lévi-Strauss, raw food is a « natural » food while cooked food is a « cultural » food. To cook, particularly in moist heat, is also to mix, to add seasonings, to add flavors and odors ; it allows the creation of colors, smells and flavors, that do not exist in nature. Fine cooking is a fundamental cultural act.

Back to Index | Cf : Emergence of cooked food

Cultural development

Urban revolution shifts the center of the cultural development. It is in trying to obtain sufficient food that man developed his cultural background and shaped the first forms of social organization. Agriculture being now well established, towns (def.) became the new place for creation. The Sumerian civilization invented handwriting, and later other inventions occurred. The time was then not far when dominated peasants would be considered ignorant by a dominating society and by urban dwellers.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns,...



Dependency of farmers

Very early, rich and powerful people understood that « to own land » means « to own the peasants » as well. Peasants were subject to three powers : public (through taxes and statutory labour= duty), religious ( through tribute paid to church) and private ( through tribute paid to landlords). Thus there appeared a dominating ownership which subjected land and peasants, insuring at the same time its own food supplies by priviledge, and its power and glory. Social hierarchy for a long time was founded on a land hierarchy.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns,...

Domesticated fire

A domesticated fire allows the conversion from raw food to cooked food, and the gathering of a social group around the hearth (def.). When did the home fire appear ? Approximately 1 500 000 years ago in China according to Farb (1981) and 500 000 years ago in France according to C. Perlès.

Back to Index | Voir : Avènement de l'aliment cuit



It is the main change from pre-agricultural times to agricultural times. During the long pre-agricultural period man learned how to recognize the food species. According to their adaptation to domestication as well as to his own « comparative advantages », man selected some species for his objectives and started « a domestic economy ». The domesticated species were integrated to the house (def.) which became the reference frame for life and production in the basic social unit.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Early animal domestication centers | Founder species


« Economie-monde»

This French expression is due to F.Braudel. It includes a certain number of countries linked together by interchanges ruled by dominating power states. The « Economie-Monde » as the economy of big groups, should not be confused with the world wide economy. The first big « Economie-Monde » in Europe started under the pressure of Spain, after the discovery of America. The need for hand-workers brought slavery and the triangular trade (Europe, Africa, America, Europe). Holland, and then England, took the place of Spain one after the other as a dominating power state.

Back to Index | Cf : Plants of the discovery 

Experimentation and demonstration

Creation of new varieties implies testing their advantages by the means of rigorous experimentation. By demonstrating their superiority compared to the usually cultivated varieties, and through the creation of demonstration fields in rural communities, farmers could visualize the advantages and decide to adopt the new varieties more easily.

Back to Index | Cf : From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices



This name is used here as a way of producing food, being characterized by definite relations between nobles and serfs. These conditions which were in favour in the Middle-Ages declined at the end of this period, with the development of absolute Monarchies and centralized States, and serfdom disappeared at the same time.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Evolution or Revolution ?

Food complexes

To feed himself man has to eat food products that contain nutriments (feeding elements). These nutriments are sugars (carbon hydrates), proteins ( nitrogen components), and lipids (fats ), as well as micro-nutriments  (minerals, vitamins), and fibers.
The nutritional needs of man are quantified by nutritionists. Thus in Europe, the average recommended diet consists of 2 500 calories and contains 55% sugars, 15% proteins and 30% lipids.
The combination of species that are collected, hunted, fished, or cultivated and raised by animal breeders, to provide man with a nutritionally satisfying and balanced diet, is called a «food complex».
Very early, man combined nourishing species to achieve this result.

Back to Index | Cf : Man as a predator

Food costs for the consumer

The easiest way to characterize food systems is to calculate the way a consumer shares its expenses. At the level of a food production line, the shares between agriculture and food-industries can be calculated.
In the West, the share of the food-industries is equal to or exceeds that of the agriculture. Expenses along the food production line can also be calculated. In France, when a consumer spends 100 F, agriculture receives 25 F, the food-industries 25 F, the distribution line 30 F, the « linked industries » (producing production equipment for the food sector) 20 F. Agriculture remains the irreplaceable part of the production line, but on top of this basis was built an industrial and commercial superstructure, with a heavily dominating economic weight.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agro-food industry

Food field

Not all the existing foods in a given place are eaten by man, for several reasons : because the identification of food species is not yet finished, or else because man rejects certain food substances even though they are good to eat. He rejects them either for religious reasons (Muslims don’t eat pork), for social reasons ( taboos linked with social groups), or for nutritional reasons (certain foods are reputed to produce harmful effects). Thence the definition of food given by J.Tremolières : « a nourishing substance that excites appetite, and is accepted by the social group that eats it ».

Back to Index | Cf : Man as a predator

Free trade

Free trade was first a theory, according to which countries benefited from opening their borders and making international trade easier.
Free trade also had a political basis, and was successful in Europe under the impulse of England in the second half of the 19th century. Free trade allowed international trade to develop. However, the big agricultural depression that lasted from 1880 to 1900 brought some countries back to protectionism.

Back to Index | Cf : Toward a worldwide economy




It is the location of the domestic fire (def.). The hearth organization characterizes a « cultural » stage. Hearth gives birth to new activities such as the organization of activities centered around the fire, fire maintenance, wood collection, invention of ovens and containers (def.), preparation of food, and cooking (def.). Women who became the nourishing persons of a social group were often in charge of these new activities. La femme au foyer (housewife) is probably a very ancient term.
Back to Index | Cf : Emergence of cooked food, | Birth of agrarian villages, towns...

Household equipment

At the stage of an agro-industrial society, even the  household is industrialized. Refrigerators, freezers, dish-washers, domestic robots, microwave ovens, etc., are symbols of the industrialization of food production lines, as well as societies of mass consumption (def.).

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences


When agriculture and animal husbandry started, community life was organized around the house (domus), which became the center of a production unit (and acquisition unit) as well as a consuming unit, to which were linked a production area and domesticated species. The house was also a gathering place for people forming the basic socio-economic unit (family with relatives and domestics), and often including animals. It was also a place for storage of production tools, products and foods, as well as a place for food and artifact activities.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns...

Human time

It is the period starting from the first traces of man on earth and lasting until the present. According to Y.Coppens (cf : The monkey, Africa and man, ed. Fayard, 1983), this period is of about 3 million years.
It includes the three periods of food-history :

Back to Index | Cf : Introduction | Pre-agricultural times | Agricultural times | Agro-industrial times | man as a predator


Hygiene is the part of human and animal medical sciences that studies the proper means of staying in good health. More generally speaking, it concerns the protection of live species. It includes the fight against enemies of production i.e. diseases and pests.
The works of Pasteur (1822-1895) had numerous applications in the field of microbial diseases (plague in oxen, anthrax in sheep, cholera in hens, silk worm disease,etc.).

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agronomic sciences


King cotton

The importation of cotton, a low cost textile easy to fashion, increased the development of the textile industry which greatly benefited from mechanization. In the middle of the XIXth century, American plantations based on slavery produced 5/6 of the world ‘s total cotton production. Cotton material at that time made up half of the English export. Within one century, the value of cotton cloth, expressed in gold, was divided by one hundred.

Back to Index | Cf :  Evolution or Revolution ?


Manual agriculture

This type of farming is based mostly on human energy and tools. Nevertheless, man used fire to clear the ground, to allow the sowing of seeds or to help animals enter the pastures.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Agricultural and food techniques

Mass consumption

A society of mass consumption is contrary to a society of mass poverty. In a society of mass poverty, the average level of consumption is low, and most of the people consume a small amount of goods. (see graphs in the exhibition). In a society of mass consumption, the average level of consumption is very high and most of the people  consume a large amount of goods.
The society of mass consumption is the result of a higher purchasing power (def.), as well as of social struggles for a better share of the production benefits. Mass consumption makes possible bigger markets (super and hyper), but it is not an egalitarian society.

Back to Index | Cf : Evolution or Revolution ? | Advent of mass consumption

Mechanized agriculture

Agriculture was animal-powered (def.) until the end of the XIXth century, while animals were the main source of energy. It was then gradually mechanized, as  mechanization was applied in pratically all farming processes whenever possible, thanks to technical developments. Thus the sower, the reaper, the tedder, etc. began to be used. At the end of the XIXth century, farmers used the steam engine, internal combustion engine, and the first applications of electricity.  These auxiliary energies helped threshing and everyday farming activities (skimming, churning). But it was only in the second half of the  XXth century that agricultural motorization became imperative.

Retour Index | Cf : Agricultural and food techniques | Introduction of new agricultural techniques

Middle-East center

The Middle-East center is the starting point for Euro-mediterranean agriculture. Wild species which already existed in this part of the world were pre-domesticated over a large area centered on « the Fertile Crescent », between the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers, and were later established in Mediterranean countries and Europe.  The diffusion of plants into Europe can be traced and dated from East to West : agriculture developed in Greece approximately at the same time as in the Middle-East, it reached Mediterranean and Central Europe respectively through the Mediterranean Sea or the Danube River, between -5,200 and -4,000 years , and reached Western Europe between -4,000 and -2,800.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of agriculture | Geographical areas for early agriculture | Early animal domestication centers | Founder species | Agricultural and food techniques


During the 19th century Europe experienced the greatest population migration flux known in History. From 1815 to 1915 approximately 46 million European people migrated overseas, and about 20 million moved from 1920 to 1970 (cf : P.Bairoch). The « conquest » of young countries (def.) and their colonization (def.), as well as a taste for adventure and the quest for better living conditions, explain the high rate of European population migrations.

Back to Index | Cf : Toward a worldwide economy

Motivation to produce

The development of sciences and their practical application, education and formation, and the obvious superiority of new techniques contributed to an increase in agricultural production. But this increase resulted also from a strong motivation to produce, linked with the family operation of farms.
Actually, the New agriculture (def.) substituted family-operated farms practicing polyculture and cattle breeding for the old agro-pastoral system based on separation between agriculture and breeding. Production was increased (abolition of fallowing lands, introduction of fodder in the rotation of crops) and was more demanding in work. The farming family counted neither time nor effort, and, according to Marx, was self-exploited.  Fortunately, mecanization (def.) helped reduce manual work and its burden.

Back to Index | Cf : Introduction of new agricultural techniques


Neolithic times

In the Euro-mediterranean area, the pre-domestication of species started in the Middle-East (def.). Later, changes happening in this geographic zone gave birth to a new civilization called « the Neolithic civilization ». It is characterized by the use of polished stones, the domestication (def.) of food species, the development of a domestic economy, the substitution of production tools for acquisition tools (def.), an increased use of earthenware, the adoption of a sedentary life style, the building of houses and of agrarian villages, and later the achievement of city-states and of kingdoms. The « Neolithization » of Europe corresponds to the introduction and the development of the Neolithic civilization in this area.

Back to Index | Cf : Emergence of cooked food, Beginning of agriculture, The millstone

New Agriculture

The main goal of the agricultural revolution was to increase cereal production which was the food basis of society, and to bring diversification in food consumption. The latter goal was attained by introducing the rotation of native plants with plants of the Discovery : rotating crops of potato and American corn (maize).
For these new cultures more manure was needed, and therefore more animals and fodder ; this could be accomplished by introducing them in the rotation and by suppressing the practice of fallowing land. The New Agriculture combines breeding and cultivation into a new system of production called "polycultivation and breeding". This new system will replace the old agro-pastoral system started at Neolithic times (def.) and based on the separation of breeding and cultivation.

Back to Index | Cf :  Evolution or Revolution? | From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices | Advent of mass consumption society

Number of inhabitants per active worker

This number indicates the change in labor productivity when the agro-food commercial scale is balanced. In England, between 1850 and 1950, this number increased from 4 to 25, and from 3 to 6 in France. But England had to import a lot of food products when France balanced its agricultural- commercial scale. In 1980, the number of inhabitants per active worker in France was approximately 45, and since then this country has become the second largest agricultural food exporter of the world.

Back to Index | Voir : Introduction of new agricultural techniques


Nutrition includes the whole process of assimilation that produces the necessary vital energy within a live organism. Chlorophyllous plants have special pigments called chorophylls, which are able to synthetize the organic components they are made of, by absorption of Carbon dioxide. These plants can grow and increase if they have light energy, Carbon dioxide, water and mineral elements, in their environment.
Nutritional sciences started with chemistry, whose founder is Lavoisier (1743-94). Agronomists developed and taught "agricultural chemistry". But an understanding of plant nutrition and of new rules defining manuring, started only after much work and the developement of experimentation. In 1840, Justus Liebig invented a sensational theory according to which plant feeding relies only on mineral elements. This hypothesis was incorrect, but played a major role in the production and use of chemical fertilizers (def.).
Animals unable to synthetize organic material from Carbonic dioxide, must find it in the environment. Systems based on the cultivation of fodder aim to produce this organic material abundantly for domestic animals.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences

Nutritional field

This is the whole set of nourishing food substances known by man at a given place. The discovery and identification of food plants was done by primitive populations in search of food.

Back to  Index | Cf : Man as a predator



Plantation agriculture

In the frame of colonial empires a new speculative agriculture was developed, called «plantation agriculture ».  It was regulated at an international scale by worldwide markets and the law of profits. Thus appeared a mass agriculture based in particular on  the plants of the Discovery.
The main products of plantations were fiber plants (cotton, jute), sugar plants (cane), oil plants (peanut, oil palm), tropical fruits (banana),  plants containing stimulants (tea, coffee, cocoa), rubber trees, etc...

Back to Index | Cf : Toward a worldwide economy


Plants of the Discovery

New plants were brought to Europe after the « Discovery » of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492. This tranfer is only one particular case of a permanent phenomena linked to general History. In Neolithic times (def.), the transfer of pre-domesticated species from the Middle East (def.) started the first big food revolution on a worldwide scale. Roman conquerors and later the Arabs and barbarous invaders, carried their own food species and brought their own habits of consumption. The Crusades brought to Western Europe plants originated from the Middle-East ( rice, mulberry and silk worms, sugar cane (from Cyprus) and cotton (from southern Spain). But the second big food revolution in Europe came with the plants of the Discovery.

Back to Index | Cf : The plants of the Discovery


In Northern Europe the plough was used from the beginning of the present era. A plough has a coulter that splits the soil, a ploughshare that cuts it horizontally and a blade that turns it over. A plough can be put on wheels and the depth of the furrow can be adjusted.
In the Middle ages, ploughing was done in a shorter time and with more efficiency when horses replaced cows, and inventions such as the harness, the horseshoe, hooks, double harnessing,etc. appeared.

Back to Index | Voir : Agricultural and food techniques


Pottery is a container made of baked clay. The first earthenware is dated 6500 years BP in the Middle-East. Earthenware can be used for cooking and preparation of wild foods, but it seems that it is only after the development of agriculture that earthenware production became important. Man used other containers : glass was used to make bottles and later wood was used to make barrels in Gaul. The agro-industrial period opens the way to all kind of containers by using various materials.

Back to Index | Cf : Pots and containers


This period corresponds to human time (def.) for which there are no written documents. Our knowledge of these times is mostly based on archeology. Information about this period comes from the gathering of objects  and traces of human life that allow one to characterize ways of living and « cultural » stages of development.

Back to Index | Cf : Man as a predator | Emergence of cooked food | Pots and containers

Primary school teaching

In 1810 in England, ¾ of the farming population did not know how to read, and in France it was even worse. The physiocrats who wanted to spread the New agriculture (def.) beginning in 1764 presented a project to create teaching in the 30 000 rural parishes, but did not succeed. It is only at the end of the 19th century that people in favour of a republican and democratic society succeeded creating free and obligatory lay teaching (J.Ferry, 1881).

Back to Index | Cf : From agronomic sciences to agricultural practices

Productivity of land and work

A town (def.) characterized by the division of labour cannot increase its development unless the productivity of land and of agricultural work reach levels where this productivity is able to feed both farmers and non farmers. For example, if an agricultural population is 90% of the whole population and if active farm workers represent 50% of the agricultural population, each active worker must provide for 100/45 = 2,2 persons. A town cannot increase its development without an increase of the productivity of farming work.

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns,...

Purchasing power

It depends on the balance between the average level of prices (P) and the income of the consumer (i) so that : PP = i/P. If the average level of prices increases, as is the case in an inflation process, with no increase in income, the result is a loss of purchasing power.  On the other hand, if the average level of prices decreases  because of production benefits and of concurrency, the result is an increase in the purchasing power of the consumer.

Back to Index | Cf : Advent of mass consumption




At the beginning of the 19th century, transportation in Europe was mostly done with animal power or water power on rivers. Slow and difficult to drive, such transport is not proper for costly and perishable agricultural produce such as food products. Substitution of mechanical energy (steam machine) for  natural animal power brought a complete change in transportation.
In 1830, the Manchester-Liverpool railway line was inaugurated, and by 1850 Great Britain was already criss-crossed by 26 000 km of railway tracks. By 1870 the French railway system was 17 500 km long,  and short distance railway lines started to open up the countryside.

Back to Index | Cf : Revolution in transportation

Ready-made food products

These are food products sold with storage, preservation, and consumption facilities. These ready-made foods require less time for domestic work. This is the result of objective conditions  for consumption in our modern society.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agro-food industry

Refrigerated transport

The revolution in shipping with steamers was completed by a revolution in cooling systems. In 1876, Frenchman Charles Tellier carried in his boat Le Frigorifique (the refrigerator), a meat shipment  from Buenos Aires to Rouen.  Shipment of meat to Europe became very substantial, and fishing boats added refrigerators to their equipment. The volume of transportation by sea increased from one million tons in 1788 to five million in 1861, and reached twelve million by 1913.

Back to Index | Cf : Revolution in transportation


Rural population drop

Mechanization (def.) of all agricultural processes became necessary, as industrial development needed new employment and offered new jobs to the farmers. Throughout Europe, farming population decreased at different rates in each country. In Great Britain the decrease was rapid, since it was the first industrialized country with rather more industry than elsewhere, and therefore it was easier to mechanize. The reduction in rural populations was slower in southern European countries, but these countries could catch up later on.

Back to Index | Cf : Introduction of new agricultural techniques




During the pre-agricultural period, collected and hunted species evolved out of man’s control, although gathering from natural environment might have affected the life cycles of neighbouring species. During the pre-agricultural period, variations in the climate occurred several times. Darwin (1809-1882), founder of the evolutionist theory, explained that only the most adapted species could resist a change in climate and the lack of food. Domestication (def.) is based on the surviving species. In place of natural selection, man substituted an artificial selection and subordinated species to his own economic needs. The transfer of species was added to this artificial selection and highly contributed to the evolution of the agriculture.
Initially, plant selection was done on a national basis, but later became international. As early as 1850, English varieties invaded the Continent. In France, the Vilmorin family created new varieties and distributed them with great success.
As for animals, a standard was defined as the ideal expected for a race on the basis of visible characteristics of the animal. Groups of breeders emerged in England from the 18th century and in France from the 19th century, in order to create and manage genealogical records.
This process of transformation of species started among the peasants as soon as agriculture began, but in the 19th century this transformation began to be based on scientific research. This formed the basis of an acceleration in science and production development, in the 20th century.
The Neo-Darwinist theory also called "the synthetic theory of evolution", upholds that the change of species is based on genetics, and that transmissible mutations do occur. Molecular biology showed the role played by genetical information localized in the DNA sequence. Genetical ingineering opens new vistas. In the field of animal improvement, artificial insemination (crossing) and in-vitro breeding of embryos, is the new pathway for progress.
Evolution in techniques brought serious problems. Among them is the reduction of the number of remaining species to feed us. Only three plant species provide 41% of the agricultural plant production and around nine species provide 2/3 of the world production. The result is a loss in the biological diversity.

Back to Index | Cf : Beginning of the agronomic sciences


Substitution of steamships for sailboats  led to a reduction in the cost of freight shipments. In 1860,  shipping of one ton from Australia to Liverpool cost 600 FF. By 1870, it cost only 56 FF (...). Since then, long distance shipment of agricultural products has greatly expanded.

Back to Index | Cf : Revolution in transportation

Swing plough

This kind of plough was probably in use since the 3rd millennium in Europe and was pulled by oxen. A swing-plough does not turn the soil over but merely leaves between furrows an untouched crest which needs crossing ploughing. It was the reason for square shaped fields.
The swing-plough was improved by using construction material which were more efficient. At Sumer the swing-plough had a stone ploughshare. The metal ploughshare began to be used in the late metal period.
The swing-plough was relatively well adapted to Mediterranean soils where it was used until the end of the 20th century. But it was poorly adapted to the heavy and humid soils of Northern Europe, however.

Back to Index | Cf : Agricultural and food techniques, The swing plough




Towns are characterized by a working social hierarchy and generally by a high number of people who are not productive farmers (administration, trade, craft). The archeology of towns and graves shows clearly these are places with social inequity

Back to Index | Cf : Birth of agrarian villages, towns,...


Understanding a tool

Agriculture substitutes the tools of production for the tools used for food gathering. Some tools can be used for both. This is the case for the digging stick which can be used to dig out wild plants as well as to plant them into the soil for growth, and for the scythe used to harvest wild cereals as well as planted ones.  The spade (to turn over the soil), the hoe, the knives to collect, are typical tools for manual agriculture (def.). But diverse kinds of tools exist, reflecting the available building materials, the types of agriculture and production and the handlers of tools (men and women).The understanding of a tool must take into account all the factors of diversification.

Back to Index | Cf : Agricultural and food techniques

Use of auxillary power

The introduction of animal powered agriculture (def.) marks the beginning of auxillary power used by man and the development of productive forces. The energetic power of man increased even more by using natural energy : the wind to propel the boats and turn windmills, and running water to move watermills. These natural energies helped grind cereals, but also helped the development of the first forms of industry.

Back to Index | Cfr : Agricultural and food techniques



Young countries

Countries such as the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia, that offered possibilities of population migration (def.) and development, were called « young » in the 19th century. These countries underwent an extraordinay development in agricultural production : the cultivated surface for wheat grew from 2 to 6 million hectares between 1880 and 1900 ; Australian sheep cattle production grew from 23 million heads in 1861 to 106 million in 1891. These countries, with small populations, exported the major part of their production to Europe.

Back to Index | Cf : Toward a worldwide economy

Agropolis-Museum | History of food & agriculture