New working paper: Unenlightened Peasants? Farming Techniques among French-Canadians, circa 1851

I have a new working paper available which tackles the topic of the adoption of farming practices in Canada (among French-Canadians). For years now, I have argued that the “cultural conservatism” claim made to explain the poverty of French-Canadians was wrong. I already published a paper in Historical Methods showing that there were no difference in total factor productivity between French and English farmers. Now, I go directly at the heart of the claim as it frequently mentioned that the French-Canadians simply refused to adopt better farming techniques that were available. I show in the paper that the French-Canadian did adopt the practices where land constraints, market access and information costs made it feasible. The paper is here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

A long-standing item of interest in Canadian economic history is the “agricultural crisis” that apparently plagued the large colony of Quebec during the first half of the nineteenth century. One particularly resilient explanation of the crisis claims that cultural conservatism made the colony’s French-Canadian population reluctant to embrace modern farming techniques developed in Britain and the United States. This has been supported through comparisons with the English farmers in the colony. Using data from the census of Quebec in 1851, this paper shows that there was no such reluctance. French-Canadian farmers were no less likely to adopt “scientific” farming techniques than English-Canadian farmers in the region.


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