Experimentation in the agricultural EnlightenmentPlace, profit and norms of knowledge-making in eighteenth-century Germany

Denise Phillips
2018 Notes and Records: the Royal Society journal of the history of science  
Most research into history of eighteenth-century experimentation has focused on the instrument-based traditions of natural philosophers and chemists. This article explores an alternate, but related, tradition: the experiments carried out by agricultural improvers. While authors interested in improving farming were aware of natural philosophical practices, they self-consciously devised different strategies in their own forms of experimentation. Experiments in the chemical and physical sciences
more » ... nerally sought to find universal laws operative everywhere; agricultural experimentation often explored the particular possibilities of a given place. The cost and likely economic success of an experiment was also worked explicitly into its design. The Baron Otto von Münchhausen was not a modest man. The Hanoverian nobleman was the lord of a prospering estate, owner of a much-admired garden and a successful regional official. He made his literary name as the author of Der Hausvater, a multi-volume work on estate management in which he shared his views on manure, clover, beer-making and the planting of trees. These were the sorts of topics, in any case, that filled the first five volumes of his six-volume magnum opus. 1 In the sixth volume, he took on a different task-the complete reform of natural philosophy. According to Münchhausen, natural philosophy had been at sea for a century, unable to build a secure foundation after Aristotle's system had been overthrown. Since all previously proposed alternatives to ancient physics had fallen short of the mark, Münchhausen announced that he, a second Aristotle, was ready to present a new system (or, at least, the first section of one) to the learned world. 2 Given that Münchhausen had no established reputation as a natural philosopher or mathematician, one might be tempted to simply dismiss his ambition as idiosyncratic hubris. After all, tall tales ran in his family: Rudolf Erich Raspe's fictional Baron Munchausen was based on one of Otto's cousins. It was also true that, despite *
doi:10.1098/rsnr.2018.0011 fatcat:hmvofgqp4bedti4ulmpzzx7o3e