Makandal in Context: Before Saint-Domingue

An agronome or agromane is a person who writes about agriculture according to French dictionaries of the 1700s and early 1800s. In a Haitian Creole phrasebook (Laguerre and Accilien) published after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the first phrase among vocabulary named “essential” to aid workers is “Agronomist … Agwonòm”.  Despite the “agro” prefix, Collins Robert (2007) translates agronomist simply as “cultural engineer,” though any search engine will show contemporary agronomists might specialize in any practice or form of research related to agriculture and as might be expected in contemporary terms, are specifically concerned with political ecology and environmental sustainability.

Andre J. Bourde’s history of France and Britain, a text on agricultural philosophical development and later relations between the two, begins with a background on French agricultural thought in the 1600s. French agricultural philosophy was influenced by the British in the 1700s, but France saw its own initial period of reform in the 1600s. Olivier de Serres’ Théâtre d'Agriculture and Charles Estienne’s Maison Rustique are examples of writing on agriculture that were “not only . . . representatives of a certain kind of writing, but also . . . symbols of a certain French craftsmanship” in which aristocratic readers “indulged” themselves in the era of French King Henri IV, who favored and promoted reading and discussion about agriculture and agricultural writing. 

Agronomy and economics did not emerge as separate domains of knowledge or discussion in that “both studies were in their infancy”. Physiocrats and agronomists had in common interests including “the repartition of land, its mode of tenure, agricultural taxes, consequences of the feudal regime, and the connection of agriculture with the broader problems debated in that century, relating to political economy or statistics”. While phyisocrats were more associated with the philosophical aspects of agriculture and its relationship to theory, the agronomists were associated with practice—research and development.