During the late nineteenth century the transport revolution and growing agricultural output, especially in North America, engendered an agrarian crisis (1878–96) when intensifying international competition in foodstuffs led to dramatic price declines, particularly in wheat and other cereals. This comparative study of the process in Britain and France examines regional and local patterns of rural change in relation to the expansion of railways, the agrarian crisis, and the responses to the crisis by the governments and farmers of the two countries. Using spatial statistics and geographically weighted regression (GWR) to identify spatially varying relationships, it offers a new approach and results. Case studies of Dorset County in England and the Allier Department in France show that railways facilitated the shift from cereal production to livestock and dairy farming during the era of agrarian crisis. In Dorset the analysis using GWR provides an explanation for patterns of the agricultural depression that a pioneering article identified but could not explain and thus illustrates the promise of blending narrative and spatial history. Further, it argues that in France railway expansion and the construction of a secondary network reduced regional disparities in rail service and likely in agricultural productivity, too. More broadly, it concludes that the differing political economies of Britain and France led to different trade and railway policies during the crisis and to different agrarian outcomes in which agricultural productivity declined in Britain and improved in France.


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pp. 229-255
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