Du physicien agriculteur du 18e siècle à l’agronome des 19e et 20e siècles : Mise en place d’un champ de recherche et d’enseignement

Abstract : Agronomy (agricultural sciences field) was formed in the middle of the XIXth century with the setting up of research, popularization and teaching institutions which define agronomist (agricultural scientist) function. The agronomist had nevertheless an immediate predecessor the « agriculturist » of the XVIIIth century, a personality committed to a movement which proposed to improve agriculture with the help of modern science, particularly within the framework of the agricultural societies. The agriculturist has appeared around 1750 as a result of the convergence of various movements : the search for improvement in arts and trades while relying on scientific experiment and professional experience, the emphasis on agriculture as central to the creation of wealth and the development of education in rural areas. Thus arises the question of which science to promote or create for the improvement of agriculture. Chemists and naturalists are eager to include it in their field. Others point to its specific objects pertaining both to the economy of nature and that of mankind. Some others envisage a particular science derived from agricultural activities just as architecture derives from the trades of carpenters and masons. Others remain sceptical about building up a science of agriculture as it is the realm of the irregular phenomena. At the turn of the century these reflections crop up in Great Britain following the loss of America and in France during the debate on public education. The same rift is to be found between those in favour of linking agriculture with existing sciences and those supporting the creation of a specific science. The latter vindicate their views in the middle of the XIXth century on the classification of sciences suggested by Ampère who define as whole specific science both the subject whose aims are « simple knowledge » and those whose aims are usefulness or enjoyment. With the distinction made between central science and subordinate sciences, as suggested by Thaer, these suggestions support and define the setting up of a specific agricultural university education. This coupled with the founding of testing and research agricultural experiment stations in the second half of the XIXth century formed the function of the agronomist (agriculture scientist) and the field of study of agronomy (of agricultural sciences). New subjects will emerge within this framework thus contributing to the development of the biological and social sciences and to the building of our societies. When the primary objectives were reached in the 1970’s with the phenomenon of overproduction the then crisis facing agronomical research was soon to be overtaken by the emergence of new objectives, new questions and new methods. The question of the meaning of a science for agriculture is revived. Similar positions to those adopted in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries are expressed. Accordingly this field either belongs to the one of the chemistry of the living matter (biotechnology largely speaking), of scientific ecology or to the specific domain of the integration of the molecule to country planning and whole economy.
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Gilles Denis. Du physicien agriculteur du 18e siècle à l’agronome des 19e et 20e siècles : Mise en place d’un champ de recherche et d’enseignement. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie d'Agriculture de France, Académie d'agriculture de France, 2001, Les entretiens du Pradel 1ère édition Autour d'Olivier de Serres : pratiques agricoles et pensée agronomique, 87 (4). 〈hal-01289906〉

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