Agricultural romance : constructing and consuming rural life in modern America
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This dissertation illuminates the links between agriculture, popular culture, social class, and agrarian nostalgia. Using an interdisciplinary approach, I draw from the fields of American Studies, American History, Agricultural History, Environmental Studies, popular culture, and cultural geography. Consisting of four diverse case studies, my project focuses on America's evolving relationship with its agrarian roots from the late eighteenth century to the present. Each case study pays close attention to the ways in which the forces of modern consumerism have shaped public understanding of agricultural issues. The dissertation pivots on two main arguments: 1) the modern realities of industrialized agriculture have sparked a desire for highly romanticized visions of farming, particularly tourism to rural places that promise temporary pastoral transcendence to consumers, and 2) as a result of the public demand for idyllic constructions of American rural life, agrarian nostalgia has frequently been deployed in the service of commerce. From the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Laura Ingalls Wilder, to Currier and Ives painting, Martha Stewart's media empire, and state fairs of the American Midwest, I analyze a variety of highly romanticized cultural forms that enrich our understanding of the nation's agrarian heritage. Yet, I also make important links between the past and present, and demonstrate how and why debates about such issues as farm policy and the politics of food once again stand at the forefront of popular consciousness in the twenty-first century.