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Napoleonic Cotton Cultivation: A Case Study in Scientific Expertise and Agricultural Innovation in France and Italy, 1806–1814

  • Joseph HoranEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 40)

Abstract

Between 1807 and 1814, the government of Napoleon Bonaparte supervised an ambitious project to encourage the introduction of cotton cultivation to the south of France and to the areas of northern and central Italy that had recently fallen under French control, with the goal of creating a secure source of cotton for French textile mills and ensure French ascendency in the most dynamic sector of the European economy. I analyze the Napoleonic experiments with cotton cultivation to enhance our understanding of the links between scientific expertise and agricultural innovation in modern Europe. Napoleon’s acclimatization project was made possible by the expansion of French familiarity with the cotton plant since the sixteenth century, which reflected the growing specialization of European botanical science during the early modern era. While small-scale experiments with cotton cultivation in France began in the mid-eighteenth century, a concerted effort to achieve large-scale acclimatization was made possible only by the support of the centralized state apparatus created by the Napoleonic regime. In its effort to promote cotton cultivation, the Napoleonic state accomplished an extensive mobilization of intellectual resources, turning to leading botanical experts for advice on the cotton plant while using semiofficial agricultural societies to publicize the undertaking. While several participants achieved notable success, the project ultimately failed to achieve the incorporation of cotton into French and Italian agricultural systems. Significantly, this outcome was a result not simply of unfavorable environmental conditions, but also of the inherent difficulties involved in translating botanical expertise into concrete agricultural innovation.

Keywords

Acclimatization experiments Augustin Pyramus de Candolle Cotton cultivation Enlightenment science French agriculture Napoleonic science Augustin-François Silvestre 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Liberal Arts & International StudiesColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA

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