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by David B. Danbom
North Dakota State University firstname.lastname@example.org
The study of agriculture and rural life in the United States during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era has been traditionally concentrated on three topics, the postbellum South, settlement of the Great Plains, and agrarian protest, culminating with the Populist Movement. These continue to be vital topics today, though each has been enlivened by increasing emphasis by rural historians on social history, a trend that has also been reflected in an outpouring of work on gender, communities, and rural institutions.
The postbellum South and the adjustment of both blacks and whites to a free labor system continues to be a field in which much imaginative work is being produced. Important general works, some of which go beyond our period, include Pete Daniel, _Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice cultures Since 1880_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), Gilbert C. Fite,_Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865-1980_ (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), Roger L. Ransom and Richard Sutch, _One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), Harold D. Woodman, _New South-Old South: The Legal Foundations of Credit and Labor Relations in the Postbellum Agricultural South_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), and Gavin Wright, _Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War_ (New York: Basic, 1986).
For blacks in postbellum Southern agriculture see, especially, Charles L. Flynn, Jr., _White Land, Black Labor: Caste and Class in Late Nineteenth _Century Georgia_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), Eric Foner, _Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), Michael Wayne, _The Reshaping of Plantation Society: The Natchez District, 1860-1880_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983). LSU Press clearly had a banner year in 1983. I also like Robert Tracy McKenzie's _Freedmen and the Soil in the Upper South: The Reorganization of Tennessee Agriculture, 1865-1880_, _Journal of Southern History_ 59 (February 1993), and Donald L. Winters', "Postbellum Reorganization of Southern Agriculture: The Economics of Sharecropping in Tennessee", _Agricultural History_ 62 (Fall 1988).
The experience of the Southern white yeomanry after the Civil War has drawn the attention of a number of scholars in recent years. One should start with Steven Hahn, _The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeomen Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890_ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), Ted Ownby, "The Defeated Generation at Work: White Farmers in the Deep South, 1865-1890",_Southern Studies_ 23 (Winter 1984), and David F. Weiman, "The Economic Emancipation of the Non-Slaveholding Class: Upcountry Farmers in the Georgia Cotton Economy", _Journal of Economic History_ 45 (February 1993).
A number of classic treatments address the Great Plains frontier, albeit sometimes in a rather romantic fashion. See Everett Dick, _The Sod-House Frontier, 1854-1890_ (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1937), Gilbert C. Fite, _The Farmers's Frontier, 1865-1890_(New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1966), James C. Malin, _The Grasslands of North America: Prolegomena to Its History_ (Lawrence, Kansas: James C. Malin, 1956), Fred A. Shannon, _The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897_ (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961) and founding father Walter Prescott Webb's, _The Great Plains_ (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1931). More recent examinations include Craig Miner, _West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986), and Paula Nelson, _After the West Was Won: Homesteaders and Town-Builders in Western South Dakota, 1900-1917_ (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1986). For the experience of women on the plains begin with Deborah Fink, _Agrarian Women: Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska, 1880-1940_(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), and Glenda Riley, _The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988).
Agrarian unrest is a topic for all seasons in American history, not least because of historians' search for a radical tradition in the United States. For the Grange see Donald B. Marti, _Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920_ (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1991), D. Sven Nordin, _Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867-1900_ (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1974), and Thomas A. Wood, _Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology _(Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1991). For the Farmers Alliance and the Populist party see Lawrence Goodwyn, _The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), John D. Hicks' classic _The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers' Alliance and the People's Party_ (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1931), Robert C. McMath, Jr., _Populist Vanguard: A History of the Southern Farmers' Alliance_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), and Norman Pollock, _The Humane Economy: Populism, Capitalism, and Democracy_ (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,1990).
In _American Populism: A Social History, 1877-1898_ (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), Robert C. McMath, Jr., adroitly puts Populism in its social context. We are reminded that the political culture of individual states helped determine Populist successes and failures by Peter Argersinger, _Populism and Politics: William Alfred Peffer and the People's Party_ (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974), and Jeffrey Ostler, _Prairie Populism: The Fate of Agrarian Radicalism in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, 1880-1892_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993). The historiographical issues involving Populism, as well as the major contributors to the subject, are expertly detailed in William F. Holmes, "Populism: In Search of Context", _Agricultural History_ 64 (Fall 1990).
Post-Populist agrarian dissent has also stimulated some scholarly interest. For example, the Black Patch war in Kentucky and Tennessee has recently been studied by Tracy Campbell, _The Politics of Despair: Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars_ (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), Suzanne Marshall, _Violence in the Black Patch of Kentucky and Tennessee_ (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994), and Christopher Waldrep, _Night Riders: Defending Community in the Black Patch, 1890-1915_ (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).
Most of the work produced on agriculture and rural life in this period over the past twenty years fits the broad definition of social history. Important community studies include Hal S. Barron, _Those Who Stayed Behind: Rural Society in Nineteenth-Century New England_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), Thomas J. Morain, _Prairie Grass Roots: An Iowa Small Town in the Early Twentieth Century_ (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1988), and Jane Marie Pederson, _Between Memory and Reality: Family and Community in Rural Wisconsin, 1870-1970_ (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992). Immigrant communities in rural America have been studied insightfully by Carol K. Coburn, _Life at Four Corners: Religion, Gender, and Education in a German-Lutheran Community, 1868-1945_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), Jon Gjerde, _From Peasants to Farmers: The Migration from Balestrand, Norway, to the Upper Midwest_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), Walter D. Kamphoefner, _The Westfaliens: From Germany to Missouri_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), and Robert C. Ostergren, _A Community Transplanted: The Trans-Atlantic Experience of a Swedish Immigrant Settlement in the Upper Middle West, 1835-1915_(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).
The experience of women throughout the history of rural America has attracted substantial attention in recent years. For this period, some of the major works include Paula Baker, _The Moral Frameworks of Public Life: Gender, Politics, and the State in Rural New York, 1870-1930_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), and Nancy Grey Osterud, _Bonds of Community: The Lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York_ (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), and "Gender and the Transition to Capitalism in Rural America", _Agricultural History_ 67 (Spring 1993). Historians have been especially concerned with women and material change in this period. See, for example, Katherine Jellison, _Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), and Sally McMurry, _Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth-Century America: Vernacular Design and Social Change_ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), and _Transforming Rural Life: Dairying Families and Agricultural Change, 1820-1885_ (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).
The topic of material and technological change and rural people in general is addressed in Michael L. Berger, _The Devil Wagon in God's Country: The Automobile and Social Change in Rural America, 1893-1929_ (Hamden, Conn: Archon, 1979), Earl W. Hayter, _The Troubled Farmer, 1850-1900: Rural Adjustment to Industrialism_ (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1968), Thomas D. Isern, _Bull Threshers and Bindlestiffs: Harvesting and Threshing on the North American Plains_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990), Fred W. Peterson, _Homes in the Heartland: Balloon Frame Farmhouses in the Upper Midwest, 1850-1920_ (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), Reynold M. Wik, _Steam Power on the American Farm_ (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953) and _Henry Ford and Grass-Roots America_ (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), Robert C. Williams, _Fordson, Farmall, and Poppin' Johnny: A History of the Farm Tractor and Its Impact on America_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), Hal S. Barron, "And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight: Public Road Administration and the Decline of Localism in the Rural North, 1870-1930", _Journal of Social History_ 26 (Fall 1992), and Mary Neth, "Leisure and Generational Change: Farm Youths in the Midwest, 1910-1940", _Agricultural History_ 67 (Spring 1993).
During the Progressive Era, reformers in the Country Life Movement made a strong effort to modernize such institutions as the school and the church. For the Country Life Movement in general see William L. Bowers, _The Country Life Movement in America, 1900-1920_ (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat, 1974), and David B. Danbom, _The Resisted Revolution: Urban America and the Industrialization of Agriculture, 1900-1930_ (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1979). For rural schools see Wayne E. Fuller, _The Old Country School: The Story of Rural Education in the Middle West_ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), and William A. Link, _A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986). For church reform see James H. Madison, "Reformers and the Rural Church, 1900-1950", _Journal of American History_ 73 (December 1986).
The foregoing is, of necessity, a brief look at a rich and rapidly expanding field. Readers interested in a fuller--though still incomplete--bibliographical survey might want to consult my book, _Born in the Country: A History of Rural America_ (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).
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