During the period c. 1720-1900 a large quantity of descriptions of rural areas in Sweden were set down on paper. Some 700 local descriptions were printed at the time or have appeared in print during the twentieth century. The most common geographical unit for local descriptions is the parish. As a rule the author was a public servant, and the clergy in particular were industrious local descriptive writers.
In part the aim of this thesis is to present the Swedish local description projects and local descriptive literature as a phenomenon of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A further aim is to investigate the way the folklife descriptions which come into most of the local descriptions are constituted for the period c. 1750-1850.
The local descriptions which form the main object of analysis and discussion in the thesis comprise contemporary delineations which came into being in order to achieve an economic-topographical description of the country, where agriculture and the individual economy of the common man were the focus of attention. These descriptions to a certain extent define the problems the authors associate with the economic life of the countryside and way of life of the population.
Local descriptions constitute a particular category of geographical delineation and have either come into being on the author's own initiative, in reply to a particular institution or the questionnaire of a particular person, or as an academic dissertation. The authors of local descriptions are in most cases connected with the area they describe. The work was mainly carried out by voluntary effort.
The idea of the need for a national and methodically organised inventorying of resources associated with the physical environment was the most important reason for undertaking local description projects. These Swedish local descriptions were one of several important cornerstones in the endeavours of the State to increase the population, income from taxes, and welfare in general. Local descriptions constituted materialised visions of optimism for growth, and a better and happier future for the country and its inhabitants, in the modern Sweden which was beginning to emerge in the mid-eighteenth century. Another overall aim was to improve the moral status of the peasantry and promote in them a moral and virtuous way of life. The enlightenment of the common man thereby became a didactic matter, touched on in many local descriptions. This process was not unique to Sweden; corresponding efforts took place in a whole host of other European countries.
The selection of sixty or so local descriptions studied in this thesis are characterised to a great extent by dualistic tendencies on the part of the public servants in their writings about, and interpretations of, peasant character and the state of the agricultural economy. Descriptions of the noble and exemplary true Swedish peasant faithful to his king, hospitable and honest are combined with descriptions of those same people's immodest consumption of spirits, lack of foresight, inclination to the "superstitious", and pernicious love of material things. In actual fact local descriptive writings consisted of an encounter: on the one side between more abstract and political discourses which contained thoughts of an ideal social organisation and the true nature of a population; while on the other side were the everyday experiences of separate writers vis a vis the qualities and situations of the local peasant population, compiled from their position as objectively observing public servants.