The University of Arizona

Lynn White Jr.'s Medieval Heavy Plow: An Instrument of Agricultural Innovation, Population Growth, and Urbanization in High Medieval Western Europe

William Graessle


This research explores the thesis of twentieth-century medieval technological historian Lynn White Jr., introduced in his 1962 monograph Medieval Technology and Social Change, which argues that the introduction of the heavy plow farming instrument greatly impacted agricultural productivity, techniques, population and urban growth in the High Middle Ages.  The author’s research provides a technical analysis of primary sources, in the form of medieval illustrations and manuscript images of the heavy plow, and a historiographical analysis of secondary sources, which include expanded research and reviews of White’s thesis by technical historians, to show if this thesis is still valid and useful for present medieval technological historians.  Additionally, it provides scholars with a new interpretation of the origins and technical evolution of this implement, as well as its impact on urbanization and agriculture.  The conclusion of this research proposes new potential topics of study for scholars to focus on, such as climate’s impact on the performance of the heavy plow, so they can further contribute to the historiography and analysis of White’s argument.

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