“Manure Manufactories”: Materializing the Metabolic Rift in Nineteenth-Century Deerfield, Massachusetts

  • Quentin LewisEmail author


The modern world has seen a variety of agricultural crises deriving from a problem known as the “metabolic rift,” in which capitalist agriculture depletes soil nutrients through intensive monocropping and fertilizing. This problem is fundamentally historical and material, and visible in the archaeological record. A manuring platform found in Deerfield, Massachusetts, offers a material vantage point through which to explore the contradictions of early capitalist agriculture. Increasing market penetration into the New England backcountry in the early nineteenth century spurred farmers to increase productivity, at the cost of sustainability. Wealthier farmers were able to capitalize on this transition, while poorer farmers were forced into wage labor or out-migration.


Improvement Capitalism Ecology Agriculture 



Thanks to Louann and Steve for including me in this collection, and for commenting on an earlier draft. Thanks also to Margaret Wood for her comments. Bob Paynter, Michael Sugerman, and Charlie Schweik read and commented on an earlier version of this research and their insights figure throughout. Conversations with Ronan O’Donnell and Tony Wilkinson have found their way into this paper. Thanks, as always, to Alanna, for everything else.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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