Braudel on Cereal Yields (was Re: Italy, Holland, & Britain:Rural Industry & Imperialism)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Oct 29 21:37:24 MST 2000

Hi Lou:

>The Spanish historians I have been reading are not necessarily Marxist, but
>they are distinguished for doing research into primary sources such as tax
>and population records never before available to scholars prior to the
>publication of the book. Unlike your Geoffrey Parker, I am quite sure they
>will never win prizes from the King of Spain nor be asked to be the editor
>of the NY Times History of the World. (How does one get that kind of job, I

Since you care very much about the reputation of scholars (you have
begun to sound like Justin in this regard!), I shall make use of one
of the most famous historians of the world systems persuasion:
Fernando Braudel.

*****   Increased cultivation and higher yields

These low averages did not prevent a slow and continuous advance, as
wide investigations undertaken by B. H. Slicher van Bath (1963)
prove.  What he accomplished was to group together all the known
figures for cereal yields, which were almost meaningless in
isolation.  Compared, they point to a long-term advance....

If a single yield is calculated for the four principal cereals
(wheat, rye, barley and oats) -- so many grains harvested from one
sown -- it is possible to distinguish four phases, A, B, C, D,
according to group and yield obtained:

A   Before 1200-49      Yield of 3 to 3.7 from 1
        1. England 1200-49              3.7
        2. France before 1200           3

B   1250-1820           Yield of 4.1 to 4.7
        1. England 1250-1499            4.7
        2. France 1300-1499             4.3
        3. Germany, Scandinavian
        countries 1500-1699             4.2
        4. Eastern Europe 1550-1820     4.1

C   1500-1820           Yield of 6.3 to 7
        1. England, Netherlands
        1500-1700                       7
        2. France, Spain, Italy
        1500-1820                       6.3
        3. Germany, Scandinavian
        countries 1700-1820             6.4

D   1750-1820           Yield above 10
        1. England, Ireland, Netherlands
        1750-1820                       10.6
_Source_: B. H. Slicher van Bath.

...[T]he main thing to remember is the long-term advance of 60% to
65%.  It will also be noted that progress in the last phase,
1750-1820, was made in the most densely populated countries, England,
Ireland and the Netherlands.  A correlation obviously exists between
the rise in yields and the rise in population.  One last point: the
initial advances were relatively strongest, as calculations would
show; the advance from A to B was proportionally greater than from B
to C.  The transition from 3:1 to 4:1 represented a decisive step,
the establishment (roughly speaking) of the first towns in Europe, or
the revival of those that had not gone under during the high middle
ages.  For towns obviously depended on a surplus of cereal
production.  (endnotes omitted, Fernand Braudel, _Civilization and
Capitalism: 15th-18th Century_, Vol. 1 The Structures of Everyday
Life: The Limits of the Possible, trans. Sian Reynolds, Berkeley: U.
of California P, 1992 [originally published in French in 1979], pp.
122-123)   *****

In terms of quantitative evidence, there is little disagreement among
Robert Brenner, neo-Malthusians, & those who think like Braudel.  The
difference is that Brenner explains the rise of British agriculture
by analyzing the contingent processes -- & comparing the different
outcomes -- of class struggles among England, France, Eastern Europe,

P.S.  BTW, the article "The Seventeenth-Century Crisis" from which I
posted an excerpt a while ago was written not by Geoffrey Parker but
Niels Steensgaard, as I parenthetically documented in my original

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