Proposal preview

Agriculture and large-scale crises in the industrial world. 1929, a paradigmatic model for agricultural crises in the modern economy

Nowadays the agricultural sector does not appear to have the prominent position that it held in traditional agrarian economies. Production difficulties no longer cause the severe subsistence crises that periodically affected Western societies in the past, although something similar can still be observed in some developing or emerging countries. Does this mean that agriculture plays no part in the recessions that have characterized contemporary history in the developed world? This is still a question of debate if we consider, for instance, the structural role of the agrarian crisis in the Great Depression of the late 19th century. Even if we refer to more recent times, in which primary sector has less impact, the coincidence in 2007-2008 of the sharp rise in agricultural commodity prices with the onset of the current recession raises many questions. It is therefore important to understand to what extent the agricultural sector has been involved in most of the large-scale crises in the modern industrial world and whether it has had a significant or fundamental role in triggering past and present depressions.

Within this vast field of research this session intends to focus mainly, although not exclusively, on the 1929 crisis, which is crucial in the evolution of both 20th century agriculture and modern industrial economies – and for the latter reason is often compared with the present recession (as was recently analysed during the International Conference held in Ancona, Italy on Large-scale Crises: 1929 vs 2008). If the interpretation of the economic depression of the Thirties is currently far from being shared, even the role of the primary sector is no less controversial. In fact, although the dramatic downturn in agricultural prices during the inter-war period was initially considered by the Society of Nations and economists, such as Ohlin or Timoshenko, as one of the main causes of the recession, over the years this school of thought gradually gave way to an emphasis on other financial, monetary and industrial issues as the cause of the crisis. However, some recent neo-Keynesian analyses have once again stressed the negative impact of the slump in agricultural prices on incomes and aggregate demand.

Bearing this in mind, the general aim of the proposed session is to stimulate a debate on the role of the agricultural sector in provoking or aggravating large-scale modern depressions, with specific reference to the Great Crisis of the 1930s and how it is associated with the dynamics of primary sector. This will be achieved by means of a comparative and multi-level international, national or local analysis, with a view to understanding the long-term global and structural transformations involved in extended recessions.

Some suggested topics for contributions:
– market, subsistence and export agriculture during the crisis
– agricultural prices and international deflation trends
– technical and social changes in agriculture during the inter-war period
– employment, underemployment, and agriculture as a “sponge sector” for unemployment
– the impact on, and of, migrations
– the role of gender
– rural incomes and aggregate demand
– the impact of agricultural protection
– recovery policies in the primary sector

Contributions (tentative list)

– G. Béaur (CNR EHESS, Paris) “Agriculture crisis and economic crisis in the long run. From Ancien regime to 1929 and beyond”
– Christopher Boone (Cornell University), Structural Change and Deep Downturns: The U.S. Farm Sector in the Great Depression”
– Jocelyn Pixley (Macquarie University), The role of banks and monetary policy in two agro-industrial exporting countries: Australia and Canada in the 1930s Depression”
– Julio Djenderedjian and Juan Luis Martirén (Universidad de Buenos Aires – Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas) “From boom to burst: Argentine primary sector, 1900s-1930s”
– A. Tortolero (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, C.d.México), The case of México”
– F. Chiapparino, G. Morettini (Università Politecnica delle Marche), “Agriculture, inter-war crisis, and the manifold performances of ‘rural Italies’ in the recession”
– Niccolò Mignemi (École française de Rome) “Agricultural exports and Italian development, between the 1929 crisis and autarchy”
– L. Andreoni (Università Politecnica delle Marche) & L. Herment (CNR EHESS – Erhimor), France vs. Italy in the agriculture crisis of the 1930s
– J. Pan Montojo (Universidad Autonoma, Madrid), “Spanish agriculture and the world depression: agrarian policies, republicanisation and foreign policy (1930-1936)”
– E. Langthaler (J. Kepler Universität Linz), “The Great Depression as Transition of the Global Food Regime
– Alain Chatriot (SciencesPo, Paris), “The problem of the wheat and the political answers to the agricultural crisis in France of the 1930s”


  • Gérard Béaur, CNRS & EHESS, CRH & GRDI AAA, Paris, France,, France
  • Francesco Chiapparino, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy,, Italy

Session members

  • Luca Andreoni, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy,
  • Christopher Boone, Cornell University, USA ,
  • Alain Chatriot, SciencesPo,
  • Laurent Herment, CNRS, CRH & GRDI AAA, Paris, France,
  • Julio Jenderedjian, Universidad de Buenos Aires, CONICET,
  • Ernst Langthaler, University of Linz,
  • Juan Luis Martiren, Universidad Buenos Aires/CONICET ,
  • Niccolò Mignemi, Ecole Française de Rome,
  • Gabrielle Morettini, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy,
  • Juan Pan Montojo, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain,
  • Jocelyn Pixley , Macquarie University, Sydney,
  • Alejandro Tortolero, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Price Fishback, University of Arizona, -