Economics-agricultural sciences

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KURUCZ, György

Economics – agricultural sciences

The texts published here, by Count László Festetics, the founder of the Georgikon, the first Hungarian and European college of agriculture established in 1797, and two professors of the institution, Pál Gerics and József Lehrmann, were written according to the specific requirements of peregrinatio oeconomica, an interpretive framework of technological journeys in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The German-language travel instructions of the Count, who sent the two professors on a European mission, can be regarded as fundamental in outlining the purpose, route, duration, and documentation, and more specifically the epistemic settings and interactions, thus playing a decisive role in the development of the content, form, and methodology of the materials that recorded the experiences of the two professors during and after their mission. Of these two instructions, taking their parallel and recurrent elements into consideration, the first, received by Pál Gerics on 17 March 1820, is published in its entirety, as it formed the basis of the instructions issued for Lehrmann, who began his travels in July 1820. The other texts produced by the two professors of the Georgikon were written in line with the requirements outlined in Festetics’s instructions. Here, a selection of Hungarian-language letters and reports written by Pál Gerics to László Festetics from, above all, England are published, along with his detailed reports to the Directio, the central governing body of the Count’s estates. In terms of their date of origin, genre, and style, the journals, revised after Gerics and Lehrmann’s return home, can be viewed as a separate group of sources. The latter includes a selection from the Hungarian-language journal of Pál Gerics, presumably intended for publication, and, framing and concluding the corpus of texts, a longer extract from Lehrmann’s German-language travelogue.

The instruction issued to Gerics consists of twenty-nine points and seventeen subpoints. In principle, it builds on an existing body of knowledge, i.e., first and foremost the professional training and language skills of the professors partaking in the technological journey. In line with Festetics’s requirements, Gerics set out to expand his veterinary knowledge and gather and record experiences on farming, plant production, and animal husbandry, while in Lehrmann’s case, the goal was to expand his knowledge of horticulture, pomology, and viticulture. Market research was expected of both of them: while Gerics was looking for a market for the wool produced at the Festetics estates, Lehrmann was to find a market for domestic wine in the nearby Prussian and other German principalities. It is also significant that, in addition to the general requirements, detailed instructions were issued concerning the subject of observation, the methods of recording experiences, and the use of a particular language thus determined, since Festetics intended Gerics to write his reports and travel journal in Hungarian and Lehrmann in German. As for the use of Hungarian, the intention to develop a medial system and a specialist vocabulary is explicitly shown.

At the same time, the two professors were also instructed to establish contacts with the centres of knowledge to be visited along a specific route, i.e., to build relationships with members of universities and learned societies. They were also advised on the practical methods for expanding the already existing network: the two travellers had to write a separate list of addresses and letters of recommendation. As for the reports to Festetics, both travellers could comment more freely on their experiences and on the results of consultations with the members of the scientific elite of the time or the owners and employees of the various aristocratic model estates. The reports they sent to the Directio, however, had to follow a specific pattern, i.e., they had to include the itinerary, the technological experiences, the institutions visited, the discussions with researchers and owners of the model estates, the books, models, and technological documentation acquired, the specialist books read, the planned progress, the funds available, and the planned expenditure. An especially important element is that both Georgikon professors were strictly ordered by Festetics never to engage in political discourse on the state of affairs in Hungary, to avoid any provocation, and to speak neutrally about the situation in Hungary, asserting that the people of the country do not wish to see any particular change. It is important to note that the instruction also specified which banking houses they could turn to. In Berlin, for example, Gerics could settle his financial affairs and cash his letter of credit at the bank of Wilhelm Christian Benecke (1779–1860), a banker of European fame, while in Dresden he could turn to the bank of Michael Kaskel (1775–1845). According to the excerpt from his journal published here, which suggests that he had received a later instruction from László Festetics, he had to visit the banking house of Nathan Rothschild (1777–1836) in London.

The published documents, in line with the objectives of the project, clearly demonstrate the processes of knowledge transfer involving different actors and correspond directly to the criteria of peregrinatio oeconomica, i.e., the set of concepts outlined in the instruction determining the framework of the two travellers’ technological journey. This is, of course, inseparable from particular farming practices, the interpretation of the specificities of each sector they have observed, and the personnel and material background of various institutions. Accordingly, Pál Gerics, who was trained in medicine and had considerable scientific background could record his medical or veterinary experiences with the help of consultations with outstanding and on account of their publications well-known doctors or surgeons at particular institutions.

In the reports and letters sent to Festetics and the revised journal entries published here, Gerics and Lehrmann’s texts both emphatically feature additional subjects that can be included in the basic concept of technology, primarily those related to arable farming or food processing, the cultural landscape, landscape gardening, or the built environment. Of course, the differences are also clear, and the reason for this is not only that the texts by Gerics published here are more extensive than those by Lehrmann. The dominance of the key concept of technology in Gerics’s texts is complemented by subgroups, such as manufacturing, meadow cultivation, animal husbandry, or mineral processing. It is also important to note that Gerics also offers analyses related to the key concepts of society, governance and administration, and power, and in this respect, he clearly surpasses Lehrmann, whose texts are almost devoid of historicity, although he does visit several princely gardens and aristocratic castles.

Reading the texts, it is clear that Gerics’s style is much more vivid and expressive, while Lehrmann’s is more precise, though dry and descriptive. Gerics’s vision, and thus the conceptual scope of his analyses and descriptions, is much more differentiated and in his description of social problems or past conflicts, for example, in his depiction of monuments, the role of historicity is not negligible. It is striking, however, that the experience of otherness is also featured in his texts in a remarkable way, thus he is observably not insensitive towards psychological processes and phenomena. It is also noticeable that in Gerics’s revised journal, and this perhaps confirms the assumption that it was intended for publication, he also offers descriptions that go beyond the criteria of technological journeys, particularly when it comes to society. Gerics records, for example, his observations on the religious practices of different countries or the living conditions of different social groups, certain behaviours, or the particularities of consumer culture.

The published texts are essentially concerned with uniqueness and authenticity, which, especially in the revised journal entries, are reinforced by additional intertextual references, while Lehrmann’s revised journal does not contain any additional notes or comments. It would be mistaken, however, to think that Gerics was not consistent enough in carrying out his task and recording his experiences, that his reports are superficial, or that his journal entries are impressionistic. These assumptions are contradicted by the fact that in his letters to Festetics, he frequently uses medical terms in Latin, German, French, and English. The botanical descriptions in Lehrmann’s revised journal are also detailed and recorded in an expertly manner, self-evidently using the appropriate nomenclatures based on Linné and Jussieu. They both are aware of their employer’s outstanding intellect, scientific knowledge, and linguistic skills. Gerics’s use of medical and veterinary references and even quotations in his letters to Festetics and the Directio add to the credibility of his work, while occasionally he questions the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of certain procedures.

The instruction published here provides clear evidence of László Festetics’s intentions for conceptual institutional development and economic diplomacy, which is also confirmed by the selected documents recording the travels of the two Georgikon professors, who, in the course of their mission, documented and transmitted knowledge in the most diverse epistemic arenas, reporting to both the Count and the estate administration, in line with the criteria of technological journeys, and also making the later application of the information thus gathered in vocational education at the Georgikon possible.