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University of Guelph Library
Scottish Agriculture

The University of Guelph has one of the best agricultural and rural life archives in North America. Graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, scholars and researchers from around the world utilize this remarkable collection. The Library's strong commitment to agriculature and rural life is significant and reflects the history and roots of the University.

A major boost to the Rural and Agricultural History Collections arrived with the acquisition of the Library/Archives of the former Ontario Agricultural Museum. These Rural Heritage Collections are gradually being entered into the online Library catalogue, making the collection available to users worldwide.

The Rural Heritage Collection is a wonderfil complement to the University of Guelph Archival and Special Collections. Collectively they span many very different disciplines and subjects. They provide primary source materials relating to the history of rural development, agriculture, veterinary medicine, apiculture, home management and cuisine, and family life in rural communities.

Major collections include...

The Irwin - Turner Collection includes photographs, owner's manuals and other materials relating to Ontario agriculture implement manufactures.

The Burton Nobles Gates Collection holds more than 12,000 items - correspondance, pamphlets, reports, catalogues, and prints on the science of apiculture.

The archival collections of the Ontario Agricultural College, The Ontario Veterinary College and the Macdonald Institute trace the development of agriculture and agricultural education in Ontario.

Plus a comprehensive collection of rural and agricultural periodicals, Farm journals, business records, seed catalogues, equipment and sales brochures.  There are 3,000 cubic feet of records that chart Canada's leadership in the development of agricultural technology worldwide.


The agricultural revolution originated in the British Isles concurrently with the industrial revolution during the latter part of the eighteenth century. From mid-century onward written accounts of agriculture, scientific papers on new methods of cultivation, and statistical surveys appeared in increasing numbers. Historical sources relating to the agricultural revolution in Scotland constitute an important segment of the University’s Scottish Collection. The local history of the Guelph region, as well as the agricultural background of the University, places special emphasis on the study of Scottish agricultural history.

Agricultural Societies

Publications of agricultural societies lead the list of historical sources. According to Handley[1] the first agricultural society in Europe was formed in Scotland in 1723. Members of the “Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland” gathered and disseminated information aimed at introducing new agricultural methods; and much of this information is contained in The Select Transactions of the Honourable the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland (1743).

Successor to the Society of Improvers, “The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland,” formed in 1783, also devoted much of its Transactions (n.s. 1828-1968) to the promotion of new improved agricultural methods. But the Transactions also portrayed contemporary cropping and animal breeding practices, physical characteristics of land, soils, forests, and agricultural society in general. The Highland Society organized agricultural competitions, offered and awarded prizes for inventions and for essays describing new methods. These prize essays were published in the Transactions.

One of the directors of the Highland and Agricultural Society, Adam Fergusson, a lawyer and agriculturist, settled in Canada in 1833 (he was the founder of Fergus, Ontario), and became actively involved in organizing agricultural societies in Canada. “The Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada” elected Adam Fergusson senior Vice-President. The Journal and Transactions of the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada appeared in the tradition of, and resembled in scope and format, the Transactions of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.

Agricultural Writers

Among individuals, the works of Sir John Sinclair command particular attention. A prominent agriculturalist and prolific author and editor, Sinclair devoted his life to the advancement of Scottish agriculture. His major work, The statistical account of Scotland (1791-), resulted from a mail survey Consisting of 160 questions to the ministers of all 893 parishes in Scotland. The result is a socio-economic census with details on population, land, rents, prices, wages, and agricultural practices.

Under the editorship of Sinclair, between 1794 and 1814, a series of reports by various authors, on the counties of Scotland was issued under the title: General view of the agriculture of the County of . . ., with observations on the means of its improvement.... The authors include such notable agriculturalists as James Donaldson, John Naismith and John Sinclair himself. Based in part on this series, with contributions of his own, Sinclair’s General Report of the agricultural state, and political Circumstances of Scotland appeared in 1814.

These projects, together with such original contributions as An account of the system of husbandry adopted in the more improved districts of Scotland (1812), had direct and wide ranging effects on agriculture around the turn of the nineteenth century.

Some other significant agricultural writers from this period include Adam Dickson, known for A treatise on agriculture, published in 1762 (the library has the second edition of this work dated 1765); Lord Henry Kames who first proposed the establishment of a “Board of Agriculture” for Scotland in The gentleman farmer (1776) (the library has the sixth (enlarged) edition of 1815); John Reid, whose practical Scots gardener for the climate of Scotland. . . was reprinted several times (1776, sixth edition); and John Walker, whose Economic history of the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland (1812) is devoted primarily to agriculture.

Legal and Political Treatises

From early medieval times Statutes and Regulations provided the legal framework for agricultural practices and policies, and The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, 1124-1707 reprints, in eleven large folio volumes (plus index), all pertinent Scottish legislation for that time period. From the Act of 1214 A.D., setting the date on which bondsmen must begin ploughing and sowing (Alex. II, 1214, c. 1, I. 397), to the important “Act anent Lands lying Runrig” of 1695 (1695, C.36, IX. 421) there are literally hundreds of sections relevant to agriculture and land use.

After the Union of 1707, the House of Commons sessional papers of the eighteenth century is a comprehensive compilation of government bills, committee reports, etc. Nineteenth century materials relevant to agriculture are available in a 32 volume collected set of British parliamentary papers: agriculture (1820-1896). This set contains such important studies as the Royal Commission Report of 1884 on the “Condition of crofters and cotters in the Highlands of Scotland;” and the Report of the “Royal Commission on Agriculture” of 1895.

Conclusion and Endnotes

In addition to these major resources of direct agricultural significance, the library’s Scottish Collection contains the publications of many historical and antiquarian societies such as The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Proceedings; The Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Transactions; and the publications of The Bannatyne Club.

[1] James E. Handley, The agricultural revolution in Scotland (Glasgow, 1963), p. 74.

G.        PAL

Here are some photos of just a few of the books...

This is the "Complete Grazier" published in 1833 showing the title page and two pages from the book

This is "A treatise on Agriculture and Dairy Husbandry" published in 1840

The girls in the library hunted out some more interesting publications for me to photograph to give you an even better idea of the range of material that is available for which my many thanks

It's amazing what one wee box can reveal...

So all this came from that wee box which likely demonstrates just how much there is to explore

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