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Joan Thirsk's work on fenland farming, rural industries, and the farming regions that she described in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv: 1500–1640 (1957), offered a framework of explanation of social and economic development that was focused on distinctive countrysides, best described by the French word pays. The idea that such areas were not simply united by farming methods and specialities suited to the local soils and topography but had common social and economic features was developed by Alan Everitt in The Pattern of Rural Dissent (1971) and in essays subsequently collected in Landscape and Community in England (1985). Joan Thirsk's articles were collected together in The Rural Economy of England (1984). This new emphasis shifted attention away from the country as a unit of study to its component parts. It stressed the value of studying comparative pays in other parts of the country and of identifying the nature of a particular pays by contrasting its history with that of its immediate neighbours. Thus, a study of the Weald would benefit by comparison with other woodland areas in Britain as well as by contrast with the marshes, downs, etc. nearby. A particular benefit of this approach was that it shifted attention away from open‐field England and brought out the significance of the pastoral areas, which previously had been largely neglected.

Although it was recognized that pays underwent change, studies have stressed the long continuity of major characteristics such as farming systems, landownership and manorial control, social structure, rural industries, and religious and political attitudes. Everitt's Continuity and Colonization: The Evolution of Kentish Settlement (1986) emphasizes the importance of patterns established in the earliest stages of settlement. His essay ‘The Primary Towns of England’, in Landscape and Community in England (1985), showed how distinctive urban features that were acquired at a very early period could influence the character and development of a town such as Banbury up to the present day. The value of this approach was immediately recognized by agrarian historians and historical geographers and has remained influential.

Subjects: History.


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