The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

The State of Agricultural History

HAROLD D. WOODMAN

If the analogue to the "State of Agricultural History" is the President's address on the State of the Union, my task in this essay is threefold: I should discuss past accomplishments, current problems, and, finally, future tasks. This assumes that we agree on the subject to be discussed; that is, that we already have a more or less precise purview of the scope of agricultural history. But such an assumption, to my mind, is unwarranted. Our conception of agricultural history is so amorphous and unstructured that much of the work in the field lacks breadth and coherence. My criticism is not meant as denigration: much that has been done is significant and lasting. Yet we need to to break new ground, and to do so we must first be clear in our own minds about what agricultural history really is.

The organization of the Agricultural History Society in 1919 reflected a growing professional interest in the United States1 in agricultural history as a specialized field. The sources of such interest had been varied. From its beginning in 1862, the Department of Agriculture had staff members with an interest in history who often provided historical background in their reports on special agricultural problems. Although the amount of such work gradually increased, it remained peripheral to other projects in the Department. The appointment of O. C. Stine to the staff of the Office of Farm Management in 1916 marked the beginnings of full-time attention to agricultural history in the Department. Henry C. Taylor, who had recommended Stine's appointment, gave added support to historical research in the Depart

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