Description, Enrollment, Instructor, Books, Grading

Course Description

This course focuses on "indigenously developed" and what used to be call "traditional" farming methods and techniques. Such practices are those not dependent on either fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, or other external inputs, and hence have been called "Low extenal-input techonolgies" (LEIT). Based on "indigenous technical knowledge" (ITK), they are typically small in scale, involving for the most part the labor of individuals, families, and communities. Emphasis is placed on those systems most commonly used in various parts of the world today and in times past

Agriculture is treated here as the transformation of biophysical, sometimes referred to inappropriately as "natural," environments, into "cultural" environments. It is assessed in regard to both the plants cultivated (crops), and the soil, slope, moisture, and temperature conditions that exist and those that are either modified or created by farmers. The processes involved in the domestication of both crops and landscapes are discussed. Ecological and systematic approaches are taken in order to understand how different agricultural strategies insure continual long-term productivity and stability similar to that characteristic of environments that are not cultivated. Microeconomics is all-important.

The various "agro-ecosystems" are also discussed as economic activities that have highly visible spatial manifestations that result in distinctive "landscapes," and as activities that are dynamic, changing continuously. Development is treated conceptually as a specific type of change, not necessarily as a goal. It is envisaged as improvement in land productivity.  It is the opposite of land degradation. Agricultural features such as terraces and canals are considered "landesque capital." Social, political, and cultural aspects of agriculture and development are not topics dealt with here.

This is not a "how to" course for tree-hugging, granola-eating acolytes of John Muir who wish to make the world into some unrealistic utopia. It is not intended for students who, like Kinky Friedman, went to Borneo to teach agriculture to people who'd been farming successfully for 2000 years. This course is not about developing "sustainable agriculture."  It is, however, designed for students who wish to gain a better understanding of the complexity of human-environment interactions, particularly as they pertain to people feeding themselves. 

Enrollment Information

This course is offered almost every spring semester at the undergraduate level (339K) and occasionally at the graduate level (390S).

Course number: GRG 339K and GRG 390S

 Unique number:

 Meeting time: MWF 11:00-noon

 Meeting room: CLA 0.128

Instructor Information

Instructor: William E. Doolittle

 Office: CLA 3.704

 Hours: by appointment via email


Teaching Assistant:



There is NO textbook for this course. Instead, 1-2 readings for undergraduate students and 3-4 readings for graduate students will be available in Canvas for each class meeting.

Copies of all PowerPoint illustrations (slides) used in class will also be available in Canvas. Students are stongly encouraged to convert them using OCR or some other annotatable format and use them in class to assist in taking notes.

Graduate students will also purchase: Ester Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure. Covelo: Island Press, 1993, approx. $21.95.

Basis of Grading

Undergraduate Students (339K)

Graduate Students (390S)

Created by William E. Doolittle. Last revised 13 May 2015, wed