Comparative Studies in Society and History

On Connecting Institutions to Social Class

Dualism in German Agrarian Historiography

J. A. Perkinsa1

a1 University of New South Wales

The historiography of agrarian Germany before 1914 is fundamentally based upon two moments (in the Weberian sense): one of a structural and the other of an institutional nature. The structural moment comprises an emphasis upon the existence and role of agrarian dualism, that is, upon a sharp contrast, emerging from the later Middle Ages onwards, in the agrarian systems found east and west of the River Elbe and its tributary the Saale, which together formed a line bisecting Germany from Hamburg to the modern Czechoslavakian frontier. The institutional moment consists of the shift from a free-trade to a protectionist policy in respect of cereals after 1879. In the words of a leading West German agrarian historian, “On 1 January 1880 … a new epoch commenced for German agricultural policy.” In addition, the adoption of a grain tariff from 1879 is generally assumed to have had a determining influence upon the subsequent development of German agriculture and, for that matter, is thought by some writers to have exerted a considerable influence upon the entire course of modern German history.