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Abstract

This dissertation demonstrates that cider was a particularly important commodity in early modern England, one whose modern underappreciation has led to a historiographic overemphasis on broad economic trends at the expense of intellectual currents in the agricultural sector. Cider sits at an intersection between competing approaches to understanding the British Agricultural Revolution that tend to prioritize either the introduction of new methods and crops, or a dramatic rise in absolute volumes. The study of cider in seventeenth-century England makes such binaries unhelpful, as it was produced in new areas and with new methods while undergoing a corresponding production increase that predated the eighteenth-century takeoff in staple agricultural goods. The observation that other alternative crops of this period exhibited similar dynamics has been noted by some historians, notably Joan Thirsk, who argued that efforts in the alternative sectors in seventeenth-century England demonstrate that highly productive energy was being poured into agriculture prior to the Agricultural Revolution. However, this project ultimately disagrees with one of the primary causal mechanisms utilized in Thirsk’s history to explain why some goods were favored in the early period over those that comprised the bulk of eighteenth-century production increases: that is the importance of extended periods of high or low staple good prices in compelling the turn towards alternative crops. I argue that social concerns and intellectual promotion by promoters were ultimately the most significant determinants in cider’s cyclical rise and decline. Understanding cider in this period as primarily an intellectual project rather than merely one of many emerging alternative goods with perceived economic value allows historians to more fully grasp the impact the drink’s production had on the enclosure movement, state weakness and attempts to impose legibility, and the ideological fault lines within the social programs imagined by “improver” agriculture writers.

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