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Doctoral thesis, 2010

Bortom åker och äng

Nilsson, Pia


The subsistence farm, with grain production and animal husbandry as the main resources, is usually considered to characterize pre-industrial farming in Sweden. However, the geometrical cadastral maps reveal numerous farmsteads with negligible acreages, far below the 6 acres that are often calculated as the minimum size needed to support a household. The maps also indicate other resources, which sometimes seem to exceed the household consumption level, such as 'over-sized' hop gardens, fishing water 'in abundance' and hamlets with more mills than farmsteads. Is it possible, with these maps as the primary source, to reveal a regional division of labour and agricultural specialization besides the subsistence farms? The aim of this thesis is to discuss the prevalence and importance of mills, hop gardens, orchards and access to fishing water. The study requires a thorough analysis of the sources’ value, and the land surveyors’ reports have been compared with information in tax registers, mill registers and on somewhat later maps. The comparison shows that the surveyors’ data are mainly accurate, with one important exception. The surveyors never mentioned hand-mills, even though they were regionally common, or even the only kind of mill used for household purposes. The resources were unevenly distributed among the 1096 farmsteads studied. Access to resources was correlated to both the geographical conditions and to the farmsteads’ acreage. The grain producing districts, especially in the province of Östergötland, show the lowest presence of all resources except orchards. Irrespective of natural conditions, the best access to the studied resources is generally found among the larger farmsteads and not, as expected, among the ones with insufficient acreages. After evaluating the farmsteads’ access to resources, particular regions characterized by division of labour and specialist farmsteads became visible. Within these regions the produce exceeded the estimated total household needs for all the farms in the parish. The most obvious example is the large-scale hop production in the province of Västergötland. I see, however, no indication of farms exhibiting signs of the 'modern' form of specialization that involves producing only one crop or product (grain, hops, fruit, fish etc.), and using the profit to buy the farm’s daily necessities.


farms; households; resource management; subsistence farming; work organization; cartography; history; sweden

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2010, number: 2010:46
ISBN: 978-91-576-7459-3
Publisher: Dept. of Economics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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