Date of Award

12-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Michael Lang

Third Committee Member

Howard P. Segal

Abstract

Following the Civil War, American agriculture became more commercial and industrial. Specialized monoculture, the focus on growing one particular crop to a great extent, became popular throughout the nation and was encouraged by many popular writers and agricultural reformers. These reformers equated commercial farming with progress, and those who did not embrace it were somehow backwards. But this emphasis on commercial farming was not without resistance. In northern New England, there existed a tense debate between small fanners and larger, commercial farmers. The debate was played out in the grange halls and fields, but was also recorded in agricultural newspapers. The very definition of what it meant to be a farmer was contested, as some farmed for a living, and others farmed as a business. Smaller farmers rejected the commercial idea of “progress” and instead relied on a value system that was built around independence, contentedness, and a rejection of greed. Even some of those farmers who did become involved in commercial agriculture protested and criticized corporate manipulations of crop industries and price settings. Although not tangibly aligned to the Populist movement that was so strong in the late nineteenth century, farmers in northern New England were also part of a national agrarian resistance movement that remained skeptical of the status quo and dominant culture. Examining northern New England during this time provides a useful lens to study ideological debates between farmers, pointing to the sharpening of the small farmer’s identity. As the small farmer is rediscovered and celebrated in the twenty-first century, the recognition of those farmers who worked the fields of the past and resisted commercial agriculture helps to instruct a modem agriculture that is more equitable, environmentally conscious, and skeptical of progress for the sake of progress.

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