Peasants and Farmers
Question 1: Explain briefly what the open field system meant to rural people in eighteenth-century England. Look at the system from the point of view of:
(a) A rich farmer:
As the prices of wool increased, rich farmers wanted to increase its production. Therefore, they began to privatise the best parts of the common land and open fields for themselves. This was done to ensure that their sheep would get good fodder. They also began to drive out poorer farmers, disallowing them from using common land for grazing.
(b) A labourer:
For the poor labourers, the common lands were essential for survival. They used to live with landowners, doing a number of odd jobs for them in return for board and lodging and a small pay. However, when the open field system began to disappear, labourers were paid wages and employed only at harvest time. This left them at the mercy of rich landowners and farmers.
(c) A peasant woman:
For peasant women, the open field system was a good way of community living wherein everything was shared between the rich and the poor. They would use the common lands for grazing their cattle, gathering fruits and collecting firewood. However, all these activities were negatively affected because of the disappearance of open fields.
Question 2: Explain briefly the factors which led to the enclosures in England.
The factors that led to the enclosures in England were primarily profit-based. When wool prices rose in the sixteenth century, rich farmers began to enclose the best pastures of common lands for their own cattle. Later, in the mid-eighteenth century, the British Parliament passed 4000 Acts legalising these enclosures which had earlier been an individual, and not state, enterprise. Enclosures came into being to enhance grain production since England’s population was booming. Also, industrialisation and war needs made foodgrain prices soar, making it necessary to take steps to increase its production. They were also important for long-term investments on land and to plan crop rotations for maintaining soil fertility.
Question 3: Why were threshing machines opposed by the poor in England?
Threshing machines were opposed by the poor in England because they decreased the employment opportunities of workmen during harvest-time. Previously, labourers had lived with the landowners, doing odd jobs around the farm. Later, they were hired on wages and only during harvest-time. However, with the coming of the threshing machine, most of these labourers were left unemployed and without a means of livelihood. Hence, they opposed this industrial tool.
Question 4: Who was Captain Swing? What did the name symbolise or represent?
Captain Swing was the name appended to some of the threatening letters during the rural English protests against the use of threshing machines and landowners' reluctance to employ labourers. The movement had an imaginary leader with a multiple-use name. His name was chosen, in a form of morbid humour, to echo the prisons that the rebels who got involved in this uprising would have to face.
Question 5: What was the impact of the westward expansion of settlers in the USA?
The westward expansion of settlers in the USA led to a complete annihilation of American Indians who were pushed westwards, down the Mississippi river, and then further west beyond that. They fought back, but were defeated; their villages were burnt and cattle destroyed. Also, with the cultivation of land for agricultural purposes, all grass and trees were razed. This led to terrible dust storms and blizzards in the 1930s, causing much death and destruction.
Question 6: What were the advantages and disadvantages of the use of mechanical harvesting machines in the USA?
The mechanical harvesting machines were helpful for clearing large tracts of land, breaking up soil, removing grass and preparing the ground for cultivation in a short span of time and with less human labour. However, for the poor, the machines were a bane. Mechanisation reduced labour demand and many were rendered unemployed. Also, the dust storms of the 1930s could in a way be traced back to the zealous large-scale ploughing of land with the help of these advanced machines. These storms were a result of the presence of vast tracts of ploughed land, with no grass to hold back mud.
Question 7: What lessons can we draw from the conversion of the countryside in the USA from a bread basket to a dust bowl?
There are many useful ecological lessons that we can draw from the conversion of the countryside in the USA from a bread basket to a dust bowl. It teaches us the value of environment protection and safe use of natural resources. It serves as a warning sign against the exploitative use of land for commercial purposes only. There should be a governmental check on how much land is cultivated. The droughts and the dust storms that struck in the 1930s rendered production futile as wheat and corn were rapidly turned into animal fodder due to over-production. It also ruined the landscape.
Question 8: Write a paragraph on why the British insisted on farmers growing opium in India.
The British insisted on farmers growing opium in India because of a trade deal with China. Tea became extremely popular in England, and by 1830, over 30 million pounds of tea was being imported from China. The rulers of China, the Manchus were unfriendly towards foreign merchants and their goods. Hence, there was nothing that England could offer to the Chinese in exchange for tea, except money. Doing so was a loss to the British treasury. Opium was used in Chinese medicine, but was banned for use due to its addictive qualities. The British started an illegal opium trade, and by 1839, there were an estimated 12 million opium smokers in China. All the supplied opium came from India and it formed an easy, cheap way to pay for the tea imported from China.
Question 9: Why were Indian farmers reluctant to grow opium?
Answer -Indian farmers were reluctant to grow opium because it required extremely fertile soil and was a difficult crop to grow, requiring more care. It took up the fields that could be utilised for growing pulses, and the time taken in opium production meant that the farmers could pay little or no attention to the other crops. Added to this problem was the problem of low sale price of opium. It was thus unprofitable to be grown.