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date: 16 July 2018

United States Agricultural History

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The agricultural history of the United States has its origins as a field of inquiry in the early days of the 20th century. At that point, historians largely defined the field as the study of production agriculture, with a focus on the methods, technology, and economics of growing crops. While these have remained important issues of analysis, the field has moved in many directions. Policy questions, such as the process of land distribution and the involvement of the federal government in agricultural development continue to be central issues. Changing understandings of who is a farmer and the composition of the agricultural household have broadened the discussion to questions of gender, age, labor, and class. Historians have examined the development of agriculture from its macro connections to world markets, down to its intimate relationship to local conditions. They have examined the history of crops, writ large, down to individual commodities, such as bananas, tomatoes, and sugar. One of the most important developments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was a new vision of agricultural history that acknowledges its interrelationships with other fields, such as the history of science and technology, environmental history, and family and community history. What was at its inception a fairly narrow field has become quite broad and diverse in its understanding of its scope and areas of concern.