Title Reviewed:
Agriculture and National Development: Views on the Nineteenth Century

Author Reviewed:
Lou Ferleger

Donald B. Marti


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 87, Issue 3, pp 296-297

Article Type:
Book Review

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Agriculture and National Development: Views on the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Lou Ferleger. (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990. Pp. xxiii, 363. Notes, bibliographies, figures, tables, appendix, index. Clothbound, $39.95; paperbound, $19.95.)

These essays survey various fields of agricultural historiography, discuss contested issues, and identify opportunities for further research. Five of them consider the Northeast and Midwest, another five address southern questions, and two deal with women and immigrants as "Special Topics" that cut across the book's regional division. Because the editor and several contributors hold university appointments in economics, and most of the other contributors are conversant with the methods and theories of social science, the essays' language is sometimes technical and occasionally mathematical. Their use of "in-text citation," a style of documentation characteristic of the social sciences and still (blessedly) rare in history, accentuates their special flavor.

Particularly rewarding essays include Jeremy Atack and Fred Bateman, "Yeoman Farming: Antebellum America's Other 'Peculiar Institution'" and Kathleen Neils Conzen, "Immigrants in Nineteenth-Century Agricultural History." Both will be especially helpful to students of the Midwest. Atack and Bateman ask whether the North's small, independent farmers were succeeding in 1860, conclude that they were, and then note that the farmers' commercial aspirations portended their eventual loss of independence. In the course of developing that argument, Atack and Bateman lucidly summarize a great deal of information, much of it drawn from their own research, about land distribution, the costs of beginning farms in various parts of the North, and the relatively high degree of economic equality characteristic of northern rural communities. Conzen's essay reports that studies of midwestern Germans and Scandinavians have challenged the once regnant "Turnerian" belief that ethnicity had little importance for American agricultural developments. She adds, however, that "synthesis remains a distant goal" (p. 309). Midwestern historians will also find historiographical guidance in the essays by Hal Barron, R. Douglas Hurt, Dorothy Schweider, and Donald L. Winters. The last essay is particularly interesting for its explanation of why historians disagree so strenuously about whether midwestern farmers got a proper share of the country's wealth.

Readers interested in the burgeoning rural part of women's history will profit from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's essay and from Hal Barron's consideration of some women's history topics that Fox-Genovese's economic focus excludes. And anyone who wants to study the present state of southern agricultural history, with its distinctively dense thicket of quantitative economic studies, will want to read this book's southern section, perhaps especially the concluding essay by Joseph P. Reidy. The section clarifies some complex and fiercely contested issues about slavery and its aftermath.

All of these essays have lengthy bibliographies. Taken with the book's statistical appendix, they make the volume a servicable reference tool that should be regularly consulted by everyone who wants to keep informed about agricultural history.

DONALD B. MARTI is associate professor of history, Indiana University at South Bend. His monograph on women of the Grange will appear in autumn, 1991.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.