What were considered to be good books in the time of popular enlightenment? The view of philanthropists compared to the view of a farmer
The enlightenment movement in Denmark - Norway had a practical/rational orientation, but was also religiously motivated. Towards the end of the 18th Century a new genre of book was established: enlightenment books, intended for the common man and woman. The farmer Gunder Knutsen Løvsland acquired many of these. In total he had a collection of more than 160 books. At the time attitudes still differed in terms of what farmers should be reading. Many expressed concern that if farmers were given too much knowledge, they might no longer wish to be farmers. On the other hand some of the philanthropists claimed that farmers should have access to more varied and comprehensive knowledge. The Danish Agricultural Society shared this view and compiled a list of books suitable for farmers. This article reviews Gunder Løvslands book collection and discusses similarities and differences between his books and the Agricultural Society’s selection of books. There is extensive concurrence of what constituted good books (i.e. they are useful), however, there are also differences. The philanthropists did not believe that political or socially critical books were appropriate for the common man. Gunder’s book collection shows that the philanthropists probably underestimated the interest of the general public in such literature.