Over the last generation, intellectual and scholarly study of the peasantry has become a sizeable and flourishing industry. In the 20 or so years since the ‘paradoxical rediscovery’ of the peasantry by the social sciences,1 countless economists, sociologists, anthropologists and development theorists have become engaged in the business. Moreover, their appreciation of the role played by rural populations in shaping the contemporary world has come to be shared increasingly by historians of modern Europe. With the aid of more sophisticated methodologies and more intensive research, particularly into specific regions and localities, historians of both Western and Eastern Europe have helped to foster a much wider appreciation of the complexities and subtleties within peasant society, as well as of the sympathy and rigour required to study them. It is certainly true that social history remains generally more preoccupied with urban life and the condition of the industrial working class. None the less, recent advances in the social-historical study of the European peasantry lend some weight to Tony Judt’s conclusion that ‘it is pleasingly rare these days to find rural society consigned to the historical wastebin, with the peasantry wrapped up in their potato-sack, ready for distribution to the real world of the city.’2