Abstract

During the 1870s Belgium followed the path of other European countries and created its first public agricultural laboratories under the direction of Arthur Petermann, a young German agricultural scientist. Petermann had been trained in the well-established European stations of renowned chemists such as Wilhelm Henneberg and Louis Grandeau. The mission of these laboratories was to acquaint the local farming community with the new scientific approach to farming, which included the use of chemical fertilizers. The laboratory scientists hoped to achieve this through education, information dissemination, and regulating chemical fertilizers. But farmers and fertilizer traders, whose practices relied on age-old family tradition, commonsense, and mutuality, were not pleased with this interference. Therefore, the scientists had to develop strategies to establish their authority.

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NOTES

1. Thomas Gieryn,
Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line
(
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
,
1999
),
15
. In recent years, sociologists and historians of science have increasingly showed interest in a spatial approach. See, for example, Robert Kohler,
Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life
(
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
,
1994
); Robert Kohler,
Landscapes & Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology
(
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
,
2002
); Sven Dierig,
“Engines for Experiment: Laboratory Revolution and Industrial Labor in the Nineteenth-Century City,”
Osiris
18
(
2003
):
116
34
; Sven Dierig et al.,
“Introduction: Toward an Urban History of Science,”
Osiris
18
(
2003
):
1
19
.
2. Besides the station in Gembloux, there were laboratories in Gent, Antwerp, Liège, Mons, and Hasselt. J. Van der Plaetsen,
“Het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling van de landbouwstations en van de Rijksontledingslaboratoria in België,”
Landbouwtijdschrift
23
:
10
(
1970
):
1461
76
; Association pour la Fondation de Stations Agricoles Expérimentales en Belgique (AFSA),
Association pour la Fondation de Stations Agricoles en Belgique, Statuts de l'Association
(np: np,
1871
),
3
11
; Karel Haustraete,
“Een eeuw Rijksontledingslaboratorium te Antwerpen (1885–1985),”
SIWE-Cahier
2
(
2005
):
15
17
.
3. The Belgian Academy of Sciences recognized his research on nitrogen in the atmosphere. It was later published in Petermann,
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie appliquées à l'agriculture: analyses de matières fertilisantes et alimentaires. Tome II
(
Brussels
:
G. Mayolez
,
1895
). Nathalie Jas,
“Les enjeux scientifiques, techniques et commerciaux du contrôle de la qualité des engrais au XIXe siècle,”
Réseaux
18
:
2
(
2000
):
165
94
; Anon.,
“A. Petermann,”
L'ingénieur agricole de Gembloux. Journal de l'Association des anciens élèves de l'institut agricole de l'Etat
13
(
1902
):
57
; Emile Laurent,
“Nécrologie Petermann,”
Journal des sociétés agricoles du Brabant et du Hainaut
(
1902
):
745
46
.
4. For information on the organic fertilizer trade, see, Paul Lindemans,
Geschiedenis van de landbouw in België. Eerste deel
(
Antwerp
:
De Sikkel
,
1952
),
57
94
. At the end of the first decade, scientists in the laboratory network had analyzed over fourteen thousand samples.
AFSA
,
Compte rendu de l'assemblée générale du 4 mai 1873
(
Brussels
:
Imprimerie de Adolphe Mertens
,
1873
); Arthur Petermann,
Station agronomique et laboratoires d'analyses de l'État 1871–1896: historique, organisation, travaux. Rapport 1896
(
Brussels
:
Imprimerie et lithographie de Xavier Havermans
,
1896
),
9
.
5. Gieryn,
Cultural Boundaries
,
22
.
6. Mark Finlay,
“The German Agricultural Experiment Stations and the Beginnings of American Agricultural Research,”
Agricultural History
62
(Spring
1988
):
41
50
; Nathalie Jas,
Au carrefour de la chimie et de l'agriculture: Les sciences agronomiques en France et en Allemagne, 1850–1914
(
Paris
:
Éditions des Archives Contemporaines
,
2001
); G. Pedro,
“Du développement en France des Stations agronomiques à la mise en place du Département de Science du Sol à l'INRA,”
Etude et gestion des sols
12
:
2
(
2005
):
135
44
; Louis Grandeau,
“État statistique des stations agronomiques et des laboratoires agricoles en 1902,”
Annales de la science agronomique française et étrangère. Organe des stations agronomiques et des laboratoires agricoles
8
:
2
(
1902–1903
):
448
70
.
7. A failed potato crop in 1845 and a failed grain harvest in 1846 were the start of a severe crisis and the end of the Belgian image as a prosperous farming country. Extremely high prices and food shortages resulted in bitter poverty in the Belgian countryside where a large number of small-scale farmers tried to make a living. From 1848 onward several successful harvests resulted in the food prices lowering again. In 1853, however, a second food crisis caused by harvest failures broke out and lasted until 1857. Both rural and urban areas suffered. The agrarian crisis raged throughout Europe, followed by typhoid and cholera epidemics, but the Flemish region in northern Belgium was especially hard hit. See, for example, Edouard Ducpétiaux,
Mémoire sur le paupérisme dans les Flandres
(
Brussels
:
Hayez
,
1850
),
49
50
,
57
63
,
66
,
89
95
; Maarten Van Dijck,
De wetenschap van de wetgever: de klassieke politieke economie en het Belgische landbouwbeleid, 1830–1884
(
Leuven, Belgium
:
Universitaire Pers Leuven
,
2008
),
150
56
; G. Jacquemyns,
Histoire de la crise économique des Flandres
(
Brussels
:
Lamartin
,
1928
),
16
,
321
34
,
335
51
. Belgian agriculture was unique because it was based on an intensive three-field system whereby fallow land was eliminated. For centuries this system had been admired by neighboring countries, most specifically Great Britain. These observers, however, were unaware of the fact that Belgian food production, from the nineteenth century onward, could hardly keep up with the growing population, which resulted in an increase of food imports and impoverishment of small-scale farmers. Lindemans,
Geschiedenis van de landbouw in België
,
59
; Leen Van Molle,
Ieder voor allen: de Belgische Boerenbond 1890–1990
(
Leuven
:
Universitaire Pers Leuven
,
1990
),
38
,
21
24
; Leen Van Molle,
Katholieken en Landbouw. Landbouwpolitiek in België 1884–1914
(
Leuven
:
Universitaire Pers Leuven
,
1989
),
24
27
. Although the liberal Belgian government was dedicated to Adam Smith, it was also in favor of state intervention. Maarten Van Dijck,
De wetenschap van de wetgeve
,
107
257
; Leen Van Molle,
100 jaar ministerie van Landbouw: Het Belgisch landbouwbeleid in de wisselwerking tussen economische en sociale toestanden, politiek en administratie (1884– 1984)
(
Leuven
:
KUL
,
1984
).
8. Roeland Hermans et al.,
In het spoor van Demeter: Faculteit Bio-ingenieurswetenschappen K. U. Leuven, 1878–2003
(
Leuven
:
Universitaire Pers Leuven
,
2005
),
21
,
26
27
.
9. J. Van der Plaetsen,
“Het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling van de landbouwstations en van de Rijksontledingslaboratoria in België,”
1462–1463
;
Institut agricole de l'Etat à Gembloux (IAEG)
,
L'institut agricole de l'Etat à Gembloux 1860–1910
(
Brussels
:
Bulens
,
1910
),
8
11
; Arthur Petermann,
Station agricole de Gembloux 1872–1877. Création - Organisation - Travaux
(
Brussels
:
Imprimerie Adolphe Mertens
,
1877
),
3
6
; Karl Arendt,
Porträt-galerie hervorragender Persönlichkeiten aus der Geschichte des Luxemburger Landes
(
Luxemburg
:
Verlag Edouard Kutter
,
1972
).
10. Jean Boulaine and C. Feller,
“L. Grandeau (1834–1911), professeur à l'école forestière,”
Revue forestière française
37
:
6
(
1985
):
449
; Jean Boulaine,
“Histoire abrégée de la science des sols,”
Etude et gestion des sols
4
:
2
(
1997
):
141
51
; Charles Guyot,
L'enseignement forestier, l'école de Nancy
(
Nancy
:
Crépin-Leblond
,
1898
),
220
; Anon.,
“A. Petermann,”
57
; Jas,
Au carrefour de la chimie
,
142
45
.
11.
Organizing Committee
,
25me Anniversaire de la fondation des Station et Laboratoires Agricoles en Belgique
(
Ciney
:
Imprimerie typographique et lithographique Latour-Beugnies
,
1897
),
24
;
AFSA
,
Compte rendu
;
IAEG
, L'institut agricole,
23
,
193
99
;
IAEG
,
Historique, organisation, enseignement, annexes
(
Brussels
:
Duyck-Van Mierlo
,
1901
); Petermann,
Station agricole
,
3
6
.
12.
AFSA
,
Compte rendu
,
3
5
,
10
11
.
13. An association member said “An entirely rural station would be preferable, for agriculture and the city don't go well together” in a general discussion over the location of the second laboratory.
AFSA
,
Compte rendu
,
4
5
,
10
11
. Dierig states that the laboratory in the nineteenth-century industrialized city started using the same technological and organizational techniques to modernize as the city employed to industrialize. The laboratory then became a
“factory-laboratory.”
Dierig,
“Engines for Experiment,”
116
34
. I use the Kohlerian term of “border” in a minimalistic way to refer to a zone of mixed characteristics. Kohler,
Landscapes & labscapes
.
14. Especially sugar beets and wheat. The notion of “frontier” can be understood as an ideological region situated as far as possible in the countryside, where the agricultural station could fulfill its pioneer mission. The fact that practical issues made the border area—in this case the border between city and countryside—a more realistic alternative did not diminish the image the station had of itself, i.e. that of a scientific pioneer.
IAEG
,
L'institut agricole
,
15
23
.
15. Ibid.,
17
; Hermans et al.,
In het spoor van Demeter
,
21
;
IAEG
,
Fêtes commémoratives du Centenaire de l'Institut Agronomique de l'Etat à Gembloux, juillet 1960
(
Gembloux
:
Duculot
,
1961
);
IAEG
,
Faculté des sciences agronomique de l'Etat à Gembloux (Belgique): cent vingt-cinquième anniversaire 1860–1985
(
Louvain-la-Neuve
:
CIACO
,
1985
).
16. Station practice was on the curriculum of third-year students. During this year they visited many stations abroad.
IAEG
,
L'institut agricole
,
56
.
17. Petermann,
Station agricole
,
6
.
18. The building plan of the 1887 remodeling is in the reports of Petermann and Commission Administrative that was in charge of the stations. Commission Administrative,
“Rapport de la commission administrative pour l'année 1887,”
Bulletin de l'agriculture
4
(
1888
): appendix; Petermann,
“Rapports du Station agronomique de l'Etat à Gembloux,”
Station agricole de Gembloux
2
(
1888
):
36
37
.
19. Arthur Petermann,
Station agronomique et laboratoires d'analyses de l'État 1871– 1896: historique, organisation, travaux.…
(np:
Ministère de l'agriculture et des travaux publics
,
1896
),
60
;
Ministry of Agriculture
,
“Rapports de la Commission Administrative des Laboratoires agricoles de l'Etat,”
Bulletin de l'agriculture
2
(
1886
):
392
.
20. Steven Shapin,
“The House of Experiment in Seventeenth-Century England,”
Isis
79
(
Sept
.
1988
):
374
404
.
21. Farmers still taste soil today. See, for example, A. M. G. A. WinklerPrins and J. A. Sandor,
“Local Soil Knowledge: Insights, Applications, and Challenges,”
Geoderma
111
(
Feb
.
2003
). Petermann,
Station agronomique
,
16
.
22. J. Van der Plaetsen,
“Het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling van de landbouwstations en van de Rijksontledingslaboratoria in België,”
1461
76
;
“Rapport de la commission administrative pour l'année 1885,”
Bulletin de l'agriculture
2
(
1886
): appendix building plans Mons and Antwerp;
“Rapport du Laboratoire agricole de l'Etat à Gembloux pour l'année 1888,”
Bulletin de l'agriculture
5
(
1889
):
509
.
23. Although the installation of a control system was not explicitly on the agenda of the association, Petermann insisted on it.
AFSA
,
Compte rendu
,
11
. In 1883 the government followed in Petermann's footsteps, stressing the importance of the laboratories' control service. Petermann,
Station agricole
,
18
19
; Yves Segers and Leen Van Molle, eds.,
Leven van het land. Boeren in België 1750–2000
(
Leuven
:
Davidsfonds
,
2004
),
95
.
24. Arthur Petermann,
“Le language des commerce des engrais,”
Bulletin de la station agricole de Gembloux
6
(
1873
):
45
55
;
“Loi sur la falsification des engrais,”
Dec.
29
,
1887
,
Le Moniteur Belge
58
:
7
(
Brussels
: np,
Jan.
7
,
1888
),
61
62
.
25. Jas,
Au carrefour de la chimie
,
59
70
;
Organizing Committee
,
25me Anniversaire
,
18
; Petermann,
Station agricole
,
21
22
.
26. Petermann,
Station agricole
,
10
27
.
27. Segers and Van Molle,
Leven van het land
,
40
43
,
85
.
28. This chromolithographic plate of crops is in the Centre Wallon de Recherches Agronomique in Gembloux. Petermann,
Station agricole
,
27
; Petermann,
Station agronomique
,
12
; Segers and Van Molle,
Leven van het land
,
91
.
29. Petermann,
Station agronomique
,
11
. Jas talks of a
“Rhetorical function of fertilizer control.”
She states that the function of the German fertilizer control program of the 1840s was mainly rhetorical to promote laboratories. There were almost no actual control analyses executed. Jas,
Au carrefour de la chimie
,
70
,
104
10
.
30. In the Royal Decree,
“Koninklijk Besluit rakende de landbouwstatiën en landbouwlaboratoriums of 1883,”
June 30th and Decree of execution of Dec. 30th,
1883
,
Le Moniteur Belge
54
:
16
(
Brussels
: np,
Jan.
16
,
1884
),
194
95
.
31. Petermann published three volumes that compiled the station's research. Petermann,
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie appliquées à l'agriculture: analyses de matières fertilisantes et alimentaires. Tome I
, 2nd ed. (
Brussels
:
G. Mayolez
,
1886
); Petermann,
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie. Tome II
; Petermann,
Recherches de Chimie et de Physiologie appliquées à l'Agriculture. Tome III: l'exploration chimique du sol belge dans ses relations avec la carte agronomique. L'analyse du sol. Méthode suivie à la Station agronomique de Gembloux. Analyses complètes de sols belges. Analyses de minéraux. Résumé et discussion
(
Brussels
:
O. Mayolez et J. Audiarte
,
1898
). Petermann,
Station agronomique
, photograph in appendix; Petermann,
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie. Tome I
,
47
,
65
.
32. Petermann,
Station agricole
; Petermann,
“Contribution à la question de azote,”
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie. Tome III
,
6
.
33. As David Livingstone had stated convincingly, there is no such thing as placeless knowledge because knowledge production is always an “embodied” activity (with the human body as the ultimate place). Steven Shapin,
“Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology,”
Social Studies of Science
14
(
Nov
.
1984
):
481
520
; Livingstone,
Putting Science in its Place
: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge (
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
),
72
81
.
34. Petermann,
Recherches de chimie et de physiologie. Tome III
,
90
.
35.
AFSA
,
Compte rendu
,
27
; Christopher R. Henke,
“Making a Place for Science: The Field Trial,”
Social Studies of Science
30
(
Aug
.
2000
):
506
.
36. I do not know if this was a conscious strategy. The directors of the laboratories had numerous reasons to proceed as they did. Gaining authority must have been one of them, explicitly or implicitly.
37. Jas,
Au carrefour de la chimie
,
104
.