Date of Award

Summer 8-20-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Anne Kelly Knowles

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Stefanie Gänger

Additional Committee Members

Liam Riordan

Richard Blanke

Pauleena MacDougall


Ever since the eighteenth century, experts have tried to tell farmers how to farm. The agricultural enlightenment in Europe marked the beginning of a long arc of new experts aiming to change agricultural knowledge and practice. This dissertation analyzes the pivotal period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Germany and the United States when scientists, improvers, and market agents began to develop comprehensive ways to communicate agricultural innovation to farmers. In a functional approach to analyzing the negotiation of agricultural knowledge through its communication in things, words, and practices, this dissertation argues that the process of change in German and American farming in response to globalizing markets for agricultural commodities included a multi-tiered process of conflict and knowledge negotiation between a variety of actors. Scientists, improvers, market agents, farmers, and others all shaped the future of farming as part of an agrarian-industrial knowledge society. While the path of each innovation to each farm was historically and geographically contingent, actors shared perspectives, strategies, and evidence to establish their own expertise, form expert communities, and reach their own goals. The agrarian-industrial knowledge society brought their patchwork of expertise into agreement, but also excluded those farmers as “backward” who were unwilling or unable to use capital-intensive innovation and extracted nutrients and labor from soils and nonwhite people of the American South and European and American colonies around the world.

This dissertation advances this argument through an entangled and comparative history of livestock feeding in the United States and Germany. To integrate the perspectives of actor groups and to bring their negotiations into sharper relief, this study analyses interconnections and comparisons between two case study areas in challenging agricultural conditions where innovation for ideal farming conditions required more significant adaptation: western Maine in New England and the Sauerland in Westphalia. The analysis combines print and manuscript sources by all actor groups with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and spatial and statistical analysis of cadastral and census data in microhistorical case studies situated in Serkenrode, Westphalia, and South Paris, Maine. This approach argues for an integrated, global history of agricultural knowledge.