Title Reviewed:
Agricultural Literature: Proud Heritage–Future Promise. A Bicentennial Symposium, September 24–36, 1975

Author Reviewed:
Alan Fusonie; Leila Moran

Robert Leslie Jones


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 90-92

Article Type:
Book Review

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Agricultural Literature: Proud Heritage-Future Promise. A Bicentennial Symposium, September 24–26, 1975. Edited by Alan Fusonie and Leila Moran. (Washington: Associates of the National Agricultural Library, Inc., and the Graduate School Press, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1977. Pp. 371. Illustrations, notes, maps, graph, index. Clothbound, $13.50; paperbound, $9.95.)

It appears that the intention of the promoters of the bicentennial meeting at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland, was to focus "upon the historical as well as the continual importance of American agricultural literature" (p. 1), but few of the twenty-seven participants had much to say on the subject; some never even mentioned it. Only one paper, "Agriculture with Hoof and Horn: An Analysis of the Historical Literature of the Cattle Industry," by Walter Run-dell, Jr., and Anne M. Butler, is thoroughly satisfactory, and it is restricted to developments on the Great Plains. Another useful paper, "Horticultural Heritage," by Elisabeth Woodburn, describes in detail the publications of early nurserymen. Some of the other papers relate in a limited way to the announced theme, including those on agricultural libraries, historical research in agricultural colleges, and the editors of some leading farm magazines. A few of the contributors reveal in the footnotes to their papers that they are conversant with the leading publications in their fields of interest and make suggestions as to future research. Scattered throughout the papers and commentaries are other ideas which might prove useful. But the coverage of the entire subject is patchy in the extreme. Thus there is no significant mention of any writings on the agriculture of Indiana, or Ohio, or Kentucky, or Illinois, or indeed of the Corn Belt.

The published proceedings of the symposium will be very disappointing to any student who expects evaluations of at least the major writings in the field—general works like Percy W. Bidwell and John I. Falconer's History of Agriculture in the Northern United States, 1620–1860 (1925), Lewis C. Gray's History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860 (1933), Paul W. Gates' The Farmer's Age: Agriculture, 1815–1860 (1962), Clarence H. Danhofs Change in Agriculture: The United States, 1820–1870 (1969), and Fred A. Shannon's Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860–1897 (1945); the more important regional studies; specialized investigations into the evolution of field crops, animal husbandry, dairying, truck farming, and so forth; surveys of matters like the mechanization of farming and the application of science in plant and animal breeding and weed and pest control; the history of the work of the agricultural colleges and the experimental stations; and the development of farm organizations. The student might also anticipate that there would be some analysis of the sources, not only travel accounts and farm journals, but the publications of the federal government from the days of the Patent Office reports to the yearbooks of the Department of Agriculture and the tremendous collective output of the state boards of agriculture or departments of agriculture. There would be a legitimate place for farm life and the problems of farming as seen by novelists. There might reasonably be some consideration of what areas are most in need of study, what sources have as yet been underexploited, and what new techniques might be used.

One reason for the failure of the symposium to emphasize the literature of American agriculture was that the participants were a miscellaneous aggregation of "book dealers, editors, folklorists, geographers, historians, librarians, scientists, and others" (p. 2). Some of these had little knowledge of the development of American farming and of course were without any research experience in the announced subject. It is also obvious that no effort whatever was made to enforce a rule of relevance. One paper incorporates the observations of a recent visitor to Communist China on farming there; another describes the rural medical program of the Rockefeller Foundation in West Africa and Mexico; and another paper and its accompanying commentary deal with the problem of famine in India and China.

The conference on the whole exemplified the characteristic weaknesses of such efforts. While some of the papers might be classified as specialized articles which could find a place in a journal like Agricultural History, others were really occasional pieces which could never achieve publication except as part of the proceedings of a program. Of the symposia sponsored by the Agricultural History Society in the last half dozen years, that of September, 1975, will be the one least noted and remembered.

Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio

Robert Leslie Jones

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.