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38 Pages

A. Sharecropping in Historical Perspective: A General Treatment

Sharecropping is as old as recorded history. The manner of its first appearance and its precise early origins are, unfortunately, lost in the mists of antiquity, and can only be the subject of speculation based upon the most fragmentary of information. We know remarkably little either about its extent in ancient societies or about the exact nature and implications of its operation there. Yet, that this means of surplus appropriation has an ancient lineage is beyond doubt. When today we grapple with its complexities, puzzle over its inner logic, consider why it should be more widespread or more deeply rooted in some regions than in others, and contemplate the possible circumstances of its demise, it behoves us to recall that we are dealing with a relationship that stretches far back in time. Our endeavours in this respect may have a wider significance than we realise. They may, in unsuspected ways, be capable of casting light upon the past, but they may, too, be severely limited by the absence of any sense of history. Such historical awareness is not always present in contemporary writing on sharecropping. In the present collection, something, at least, of the necessary historical content may be detected. It is to be hoped that this is an initiative which, however provisional, will be built upon in future research.