Historically Thinking

Historically Thinking

Episode 261: The Long Land War

April 25, 2022

For most of human history, the wealthy of any given society have been those who owned land. Therefore to change concepts of property ownership has been to change concepts of society itself.

In her new book The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights, Jo Guldi focus on land and its distribution as an overlooked engine driving politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of course, the history of land reform is far older "strategies for turning the land over to the poor date as far back as ancient Canaan or the Roman empire; and yet, modern proposals for state-engineered 'land reform' appeared for the first time in nineteenth-century Britain, and the first “rent control” law dates from Ireland in 1881." From land reform policies in nineteenth century Ireland and India, to post-colonial Africa, Guldi's study ranges the globe. She argues that land redistribution is crucial to understanding the rise and fall of nationalism, communism, and internationalism, as well as the spread of information technology and free-market economics.

Jo Guldi is associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University, where she teaches courses on the history of Britain, the British Empire, modern development policy, and property law. She describes herself as a "historian of capitalism [whose] interests have ranged widely over problems of the past and methods for knowing the truth."

For Further Investigation

You might be interested in reading some of Jo's many essays. They can be found here, on her excellent website.
I learned about Jo's book from Scott Nelson, who was on to talk about grain and history. You can listen to that conversation here, if you haven't already heard it.
In our conversation about his book Petrarch's War: Florence and the Black Death in Context, Bill Caferro offered some criticisms of "the long view" and some reasons why focusing on the "short view" is a good thing.