Now published: Unenlightened peasants? Farming techniques among French-Canadians, circa 1851

A few weeks ago, Cliometrica accepted my paper on French-Canadians and their farming practices in the 19th century. The goal of that paper was to finish off (literally) the thesis that French-Canadians were culturally conservative and that, for cultural reasons, they refused to adopt new practices that would have increased farming productivity. In this paper, I take on the “cultural conservatism” hypothesis on its own grounds (i.e., the adoption rate of new farming techniques). I find no effect of culture on adoption rates. In fact, I find that French-English mixed areas in Quebec had higher rates of adoption that homogenously French or homogenously English areas (i.e., ethnic mixity meant greater adoption levels of new techniques as both groups taught each other on how to use the techniques in Quebec). This is a potent “kill shot” towards that hypothesis.

The paper is now online here at Cliometrica and it is a complement to an earlier article of mine in Historical Methods. The abstract is reproduced 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 US. 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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