27 Pages

Medieval Economy and Society

Developments in the study of field systems since 1973 have been surveyed by Baker (1979; 1983) . The most important single contribution to the debate on the origins of open field systems has been that of Dodgshon. Initially he examined Scottish infield-outfield farming (1973; 1975a), stressing the importance of differences in tenure between the two main components of the system. He saw the distinction between infield and outfield as being due to a contrast between an original core of assessed land and later, unassessed intakes from the waste (1975b,c; 1977). Subsequently he extended this work to an analysis of the origins of British field systems (1975d,e; 1978; 1980). Dodgshon believed that field systems were not designed, that the term 'system' is misleading, implying a coherence which may never have existed. Field systems were not a conscious response to particular sets of conditions, but more makeshift in their origins and development, an amalgamation of responses to various influences which were not necessarily directly related to agriculture. He stressed that field systems should be considered in the context of the total history of the communities that worked them. Field systems were not so much the deliberate creation of agrarian communities as influences on the nature of these communities. He concluded that subdivided fields arose essentially from piecemeal colonisation and the sharing out of assarts. Communal farming in turn arose as a response to the logistical problems of working subdivided fields. He saw shareholding as being important in producing subdivided fields though influences such as population growth, partible inheritance and the operation of an active land market might also have encouraged fragmentation.