AskDefine | Define peasants

User Contributed Dictionary




peasants p
  1. Plural of peasant

Extensive Definition

Not to be confused with pheasants. The relative position of Western European peasants was greatly improved after the Black Death unsettled medieval Europe, granting far greater economic and political power to those peasants fortunate enough to survive the cataclysm.
In the wake of this disruption to the established hierarchy, later centuries saw the invention of the original printing presses, widespread literacy and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment.
This evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, which enabled mechanically and chemically augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities. These factory workers with their low skill and large numbers quickly came to occupy the same socio-economic stratum as the original medieval peasants.
This was especially pronounced in Eastern Europe. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. The Tsars then began to notice that the West had made enormous strides they had not, responding by forcing the largely illiterate peasant populations under their control to embark upon a Westernization and industrialization campaign.
Peter the Great initiated a half-successful attempt to force more than 500 years' worth of social change in the space of a few generations. Modernization of agriculture in Eastern Europe and Russia was not achieved until after the October Revolution.

Notes and references

peasants in German: Landarbeiter
peasants in French: paysan
peasants in Polish: chłopi
peasants in Romanian: Ţăran
peasants in Russian: Крестьянин
peasants in Dutch: Boer
peasants in Chinese: 农民
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