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Rethinking the History of Modern Agriculture: British Pig Production, c.1910–65

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-191
Number of pages27
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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This article uses a study of pig production in Britain, c.1910–65, to rethink the history of modern agriculture and its implications for human–animal relationships. Drawing on literature written by and for pig producers and experts, it challenges existing portrayals of a unidirectional, post-Second World War shift from traditional small-scale mixed farming to large, specialized, intensive systems. Rather, ‘factory-style’ pig production was already established in Britain by the 1930s, and its fortunes waxed and waned over time in relation to different kinds of outdoor production, which was still prominent in the mid-1960s. In revealing that the progressive proponents of both indoor and outdoor methods regarded them as modern and efficient, but defined and pursued these values in quite different ways, the article argues for a more historically situated understanding of agricultural modernity. Analysis reveals that regardless of their preferred production system, leading experts and producers were keen to develop what they considered to be natural methods that reflected the pig's natural needs and desires. They perceived pigs as active, sentient individuals, and believed that working in harmony with their natures was essential, even if this was, ultimately, for commercial ends. Such views contradict received accounts of modern farming as a utilitarian enterprise, concerned only with dominating and manipulating nature. They are used to argue that a romantic, moral view of the pig did not simply pre-date or emerge in opposition to modern agriculture, but, rather, was integral to it.

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