Sunday, January 24, 2010

Agricultural History, Women, Shoes, and Strange Musical Instruments

I realized recently that I have not posted photos lately. Mostly, it is because I haven't been out in the field as I have been frantically writing to meet some deadlines for two big projects at work. One, wherein I don an historians cap to prepare a regional agricultural history, is now in the somewhat mysterious internal review process (mysterious = I'm not actually sure who is reviewing it; I have heard 2 or 3 different things). The other involves lots to do on a very tight deadline.

I really enjoyed working on the agricultural history. Agricultural histories in this neck of the woods tend to be superficial, essentially giving statistics of various agricultural products, a basic history of the area, talk about some buildings, and when the highways went in that have led to the agricultural lands being developed for commuters. One thing that particularly struck me was that the only people that tended to be mentioned were farmers (always men, always in a non-specific, general sort of way) and slaves (as in, early farmers had some, but not many; then they didn't). Where are the women? children? hired hands? tenant farmers? indentured servants? migrant workers? immigrants?

I had to do a TON of background reading. I am by no means an historian (let us not speak of the last time I actually took a history class, kthx). I immersed myself in the world of eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century agricultural history for this area, and let me tell you, there is some Good Stuff out there (note to my professional historian friends: they may not be fun to write, and aren't really original research, but well-written state-of-the-field/historiography of Region X from "Year n through n+whatever" are immensely, incredibly helpful). I particularly enjoyed (and used) the work of Joan Jensen* and Nancy Osterud**. I actually -read- their works, instead of picking through for bits to cite.

I'm happy with the result; the agricultural statistics and basic regional history are in there, but so are the people, as well as a discussion of changing material culture (I am an archaeologist, after all!). I hope my in-office reader and the State Historic Preservation Office are happy with it, too. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to write much about specific individuals, though I do have data on individual woman- and African-American owned farmsteads that I should do something with.

Oh... and if you're interested in Patriarchal Equilibrium*** in action, check out poultry raising and dairying (butter making) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Both of these had traditionally been the purview of women; many works describe them as generating "pin money," which is crap -- these agricultural products were more often than not significant (and, perhaps more importantly, reliable) sources of income. As soon as the "necessary" technological investment and financial rewards increased, both of these pursuits shifted from being woman's work to being the domain of men. Poultry raising shifted a little later than dairy because of delays in rural electrification. But by WWI, the shift in dairying appears to have been complete: a pamphlet promoting the Woman's Land Army of America**** specifically addressed the question if women were even capable of milking a cow. Guess what! They could! Womens' hands are so gentle! Seriously, that's what it says.

Which is all a long tangent to me posting a photo. I've been going dancing lately, and am enjoying almost every minute of it. It is forcing me to be more social and outgoing, which I find difficult, but which is necessary, and which, I am happy to report, is getting easier. Even when my insecurities rear their little demonic heads. It is necessary to carry in clean shoes, so that outdoor grit stuck in shoe soles can't act like sandpaper and strip the finish from the wooden floors of the dance venues (community halls, church halls, school gyms, etc). I picked my most comfortable of shoes, and they are now my dancin' shoes:

The dancing is done to live music, which is fantastic. Even more fantastic is when you see something you've never seen before; the other week, the band included a nyckleharpa. I was entranced. In the YouTube, it's the strange instrument on the right; the strange instrument on the left is an arch-harp, which I have yet to clap eyes on in person.

Dancin' Footynotes:

* She's published several really good articles, but here's the place to start: Jensen, Joan M. (1986). Loosening the bonds: Mid-Atlantic farm women, 1750-1850. New Haven: Yale University Press.

** I found this book especially helpful in thinking about rural -communities- instead of individual farms: Osterud, Nancy G. (1991). Bonds of community: The lives of farm women in nineteenth-century New York. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

*** Too much to write about in a footnote on this one. Bennett, Judith M. (2006). History matters: Patriarchy and the challenge of feminism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Bloggy roundtable: here, here, here, here, and here (good stuff; if I did it right, the links are in the order of discussion).

**** I'd never heard of the Woman's Land Army of America. Completely fascinating. Check out Weiss, Elaine F. (2008). Fruits of victory: The Woman's Land Army of America in the Great War. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books.

IMO, anyone who doesn't look at these works specifically because they have "women" and "feminism" in the titles is doing themselves a huge, huge disservice. So there.

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