Suggestive rather than Conclusive

The Resisted Revolution: Urban America and the Industrialization of Agriculture, 1900-1930 David B. Danbom, 1979

David Danbom portrays the Country Life Movement as an urban-led crusade to save rural America, but he argues that the movement's Progressive leaders were frequently hostile to rural people and their interests. Ultimately, he says, the goal of the reformers was to ensure steady supplies of cheap food to support urban growth and low-wage industry. This thesis interests me, because I've often thought the people leading the Progressive Movement were just a bit too urban, educated, and elite.

Danbom takes a sort-of cultural approach to demonstrating his claim, using a wide array of print primary sources, rather than letters or journals of the reformers or the testimony of rural people. So there's no smoking gun document, where one reformer says to another, "these damn country folk. All they're good for is feeding city wage workers." Luckily, many of his print sources are now available online via Google Books, so we can read them ourselves and see if we see the same things Danbom did.


Danbom's narrative tends to portray good guys and bad guys, when the reality (even in primary passages he quotes from, in my opinion) is clearly more layered and complex. But Hofstadter and others have done the same with the Progressives. It’s a contentious period, and one that seems to invite over-generalization. Or is that just my discomfort with the cultural/intellectual history approach? I often find arguments of this type suggestive rather than conclusive, especially when they rely mostly on elite sources. Although he cites a lot of texts, Danbom doesn't use some of the obvious ones you'd expect to see. There's no
Horace Plunkett, for example. Is that because Plunkett, though a foreign aristocrat, was too sympathetic to farmers to fit the mold?

In the end, Danbom concludes that, although there was a net loss in farms in the 1920s, medium sized farms fared worst. Tiny and gigantic farms both increased in number, just as they seem to have done in the recent Ag. Census (when the giant farms were agribusiness corn producers and the tiny ones were CAFOs). An inference that might be drawn from this is that the “farmers” Hofstadter focuses on in
Age of Reform may be different from the rural people Danbom writes about. A change in what we define as farmers in this transitional period might explain a lot. A more balanced sample of sources that included some rural voices might also help. Reading the sources Danbom cites, I get more of a sense of privilege and technocracy than hostility. But I'd really like to know how the farmers felt.

Of the eight reviews I found of
Resisted Revolution, several were positive, a couple called attention to flaws in characterization, and one (Paul Conkin's in Ag. Hist.) blasted Danbom for shoddy and ideologically tainted work. There's a story behind that, which I'll explore tomorrow.

Some of the sources Danbom used:

Bailey, The Country Life Movement in the United States Bailey, The Training of Farmers Bailey, New York State Rural Problems Bailey, The State and the Farmer Bryan, Farming as an Occupation Butterfield, A Campaign for Rural Progress Blackmar, Social Degeneration in Towns and Rural Districts Boyle, Agricultural Economics Butterfield, The Farmer and the New Day Butterfield, Chapters in Rural Progress Cance, Immigrant Rural Communities Carstens, The Rural Community and Prostitution Carver, Principles of Rural Economics Carver, Selected Readings in Rural Economics REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON COUNTRY LIFE Coulter, Influence of Immigration of Agricultural Development The Craftsman, Why Back to the Farm? The Craftsman, Getting Back to Our Base of Supplies Danielson, The Hill Folk (Hereditary Defectives) Devine, Misery and Its Causes Dugdale, The Jukes Dillingham, Recent Immigrants in Agriculture Fiske, Challenge of the Country Forbes-Lindsay, The Rural Settlement Galpin, Rural Life Gathany, What's the Matter with the Eastern Farmer? Gillette, Constructive Rural Sociology Gillette, Rural Sociology Goddard, The Kallikak Family Groves, The Rural Mind and Social Welfare Hall, Three Acres and Liberty Hall, A Little Land and a Living Harger, Middle West's Peace Problems Harmon, What's the Matter with the Pennsylvania Farmer? Harris, Health on the Farm James Jerome Hill, Highways of Progress Hill, The Natural Wealth of the Land and Its Conservation Hill, Addresses by James Jerome Hill Holmes, The Passing of the Farmer Holmes, Movement from City and Town to Farms Jenks, The Immigration Problem, “Recent Immigrants in Agriculture” Knapp, Causes of Southern Rural Conditions and the Small Farm as an Important Remedy Kolb, Rural Primary Groups C.L., Two Views of the Back to the Land Movement Lighton, "The Riches of a Rural State" McKeever, Farm Boys and Girls Mills, What's the Matter with the Farmer? Northrup, Rural Improvement (1880) Nourse, The War and the Back to the Land Movement Phelan, Rural Economics and Rural Sociology Ross, Agrarian Changes in the Middle West Spillman, Farming as an Occupation for City-Bred Men Steiner, Our Recent Immigrants as Farmers Strong, The Challenge of the Country Twitchell, Outlook for New England Agriculture USDA 1940 Yearbook: Farmers in a Changing World Vandercook, Rural Delinquency Vincent, “Countryside and Nation” Waugh, Rural Improvement Wilson, “Country Versus City”