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I'm not sure how to word this quite yet so bear with me:

Let's say a group of people want to revert back to an agrarian society, but want to take with them some modern innovations that would be helpful to them in ways historical agrarian societies, like those found in feudal Europe, didn't have the benefit of using. Or maybe there is even a group of time-travelers introducing said concepts to an ancient agrarian culture that they could easily reproduce in their time (whatever helps you get into this idea). What would be good things to take with them or introduce to this society that they could readily reproduce with the available resources?

Let me set some parameters: in this scenario, much of modern technology is left behind. Let's just go ahead and get rid of anything even remotely resembling a computer or a cell-phone. Nothing like that will make the transition. The same goes for cars and most major forms of transportation. Maybe even nothing so advanced as a bicycle. Basically anything after the Industrial Revolution. Anything that can be readily lumped into this pile should be; unless it can't be helped for the sake of argument, I'd like to not resort to using anything like this.

But...say...they were to bring along some of the ideas we've since been able to implement into building cob or rammed-earth houses? Sun ovens or rocket-stoves? Natural below-ground refrigeration or pot fridges? Practical means of rainwater capture? Composting toilets? Biosand water filters? Greenhouses? Things of that nature. I guess you could consider them low-tech innovations, stuff that might be eco-friendly and/or present in helping developing countries have better quality of life without the need of money or advanced technology.

Or, say, just simple and intelligent tweaks and redesigns to existing technology that makes it more useful, but in low-tech ways? Like, smart storage designs to maximize small spaces? Tools that can do more than one thing? Improved weapon design? Or maybe innovations in how we do certain things? Like...what things have we done in the realm of growing crops that could help a culture like this? Or raising livestock? Hunting and gathering in general? Basically anything we've learned in the resulting centuries that would have been useful - and doable - in those times.

I guess I have to ask the question of whether or not some modern-day conveniences could be replicated through almost anachronistic means in this type of society...like, say, running water and a plumbing system of some kind? I know that the Romans had some sort of system approximating this, and I believe other civilizations did too (unless I'm remembering wrong). Would there be other similar ways to replicate or approximate these things? And what would they be?

I'm not sure how much of our modern world, or what facets of it, can be taken advantage of in this context. So I'm throwing a wide net, and hoping people smarter than myself can fill in any blanks. And I would very much like to know how you think a society like this would come to look like and function.

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closed as too broad by James, Gary Walker, Hohmannfan, DaaaahWhoosh, Frostfyre Jul 2 '16 at 0:33

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you need to describe WHY these people are regressing. If they are being forced to, then a printing-press would be a critical tool for saving as much current knowledge as possible in the hopes of rebuilding. If they are voluntarily regressing, then they can have the critical knowledge (such as don't line your aquiducts with lead) professionally printed and preserved in plastic, before they leave the modern world behind. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 1 '16 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ First of all, those are the exact kinds of things I was hoping people would be able to bring to light, things that hadn't even occurred to me. Unfortunately, I don't have an easy answer to the question, as it's a little of both; and to go much further than that would be going into elements of a story I don't want to divulge. I guess the best way to answer is it's more voluntary than forced, but they will be putting themselves into a situation where in the future they will not have a choice but be forced to adhere to these ideals they've set to be "this" kind of society. If that makes sense. $\endgroup$ – bsideswiped Jul 1 '16 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ It is probably also important to specify whether they will have access to the modern world after their regression. Will 21st century civilization still exist, perhaps on the other side of a mountain range, or is it gone/permanently unavailable. If the modern world is still available, then take a copy of a current Physicians Desk Reference with curable diseases highlighted in yellow and a note on the inside cover saying... "If your patient's symptoms are yellow, then send him over the mountain." $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 1 '16 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ This is a cool idea but it feels way way to broad. Could you narrow this question down to a certain facet of life? Farming seems like an obvious choice. You could then do follow up questions on other aspects, perhaps sanitation, policing, material science (metals/stone), architecture, medical sciences etc. $\endgroup$ – James Jul 1 '16 at 19:31
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Depends on how far back you are talking about going. In your question you say feudal Europe, but you also mention ancient agrarian societies. And even in that regard, there are differences in the levels of knowledge of different groups in the same time period. So I think you would get better answers if you specified. That being said there are some things that would be better across the board:

Sanitation: Teaching the basics of sanitation can help ensure the population lives longer, and more hands around harvest time is always a plus.

Herbalism: Now granted most agrarian societies already use plants for treating diseases, but with today's medical knowledge you know which plants are actually useful for treating what diseases. Information like the bark of the cinchona tree can be used for treating Malaria can save lives, and is something used today (the bark contains quinine).

Printing Press: Knowledge is power, and being able to share that knowledge, and make sure it is passed on is a huge boon to any society. But before the printing press it was a laborious and expensive process to create copies of things. With the knowledge of how a press works, one could easily be made out of wood and stone at a much earlier point in history. With an easy way to print knowledge, it makes more sense for more people to learn to read. With more people learning about basic concepts, new ideas based on those concepts can be thought of, recorded, and passed on.

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The real benefit of modern knowledge would be in the medical field. Understanding how to sanitize wounds and treat disease would greatly reduce mortality and improve overall lifespan and health. More people would survive to adulthood and live longer, more productive lives. The same is true for understanding of science (the scientific method) and value of knowledge. Besides just technology, a lot of our development in the last few centuries has revolved around our understanding of ourselves and our universe.

In terms of modern things that don't involve direct technology, I would say some modern strains of crops might be highly useful. You can exclude things that require specific herbicides or pesticides (as many do) but things like Dwarf Wheat would make growing food in areas ill suited for it easier (though a lot of modern crossbreeds require herbicides and pesticides). There are also drought resistant seeds that have been bioengineered. Additionally, just the general improvements that have been made to seeds since the Medieval period and variety of crop types (for better nutrition) would greatly benefit such a society. The knowledge of crossbreeding strains of plants and a general understanding of genetics might also help, as a plant disease or insect could ruin even modern seeds that are resistant to many bugs and diseases.

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What to take? Knowledge beats all. In addition some bits and pieces:

Your first priority is safety. Otherwise the local knight will rob you blind and either make you into luckless serfs or run you off his turf. Immediate end to all nice perspectives.

How to get safety?

  1. Defend yourself with strong crossbows, and if the terrain permits halberds. Needed are basic metalworking and bow-making skills using either metal or composite wood and horn for the crossbow limbs.
  2. Build yourself a stronghold. It should be the robber-baron type, far from any strong established kingdoms in order to ensure long-term independence.

Next you want to be able to feed yourself. The middle ages were a period of regular famines.

How to get food?

  1. Good crop seeds. Current crops have a far greater yield than what the middle ages had. Today there are far more as well, corn and potatoes were as yet unknown in Europe.
  2. Good domesticated breeds. Best have cattle, sheep, goats and chicken. And cats & dogs as well, for obvious reasons.

Protection from plagues and injury will have to come from hygiene and first-aid. Your initial population will have some resistance against most, being for example descendants from black plague survivors anyway.

Next you need to earn some money for creature comforts. I'd recommend glass-making and cloth-making as good options. Cloth is the original industry that generated sizeable wealth for commoners. Venetian glass is another example of an early, low-tech, high-yield industry. By this time you will need oil lamps as well.

Now that you have all the necessities, the real game begins. Work the local policy and build your knowledge base. You need a real town now with guilds and a university. You are a power in the world. It is yours to sculpt into a better image.

References:
http://www.historyextra.com/feature/medieval/10-dangers-medieval-period
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadcloth
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venetian_glass

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  • $\begingroup$ "Current crops have a far greater yield than what the middle ages had." True but largely irrelevant. Most modern crops are hybrids, so "good crop seeds" will not breed true. Furthermore, modern crop yields generally assume large application of fertilizer, which is not available in a purely agrarian society. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 1 '17 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast "normal" varieties with increased yields were created by selective breeding year after year after year. They pre-date current (indeed useless) "hybrids". And their inability to generate offspring is added on purpose by the producer who wants his customers to return every year. $\endgroup$ – Bookeater Mar 1 '17 at 21:17
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1 modern invention: The rocket stove.

Example of rocket stove

Despite the high-tech sounding name, it's actually a very low tech invention. And despite how low tech it appears, it's a fairly recent invention.

It's little more than a properly placed door and carefully placed fire bricks (or other insulating material). The advantage isn't in some high tech gadgetry, but just the physics-knowledge of building a stove correctly. Basically, the shape allows there to be very little waste heat, and directs the heat more precisely, allowing this wood-fired stove to get much hotter than a typical woodfire stove. This allows it to be used for a lot more purposes than the typical wood-fired stove.

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