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The Core Historical Literature of Agriculture
Created and maintained by the Core Historical Literature Group (Joy Paulson, chair), Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University.
Reviewed March 2004.

The Core Historical Literature of Agriculture (CHLA) is a full-text digital collection selected from over 350,000 volumes in the Mann Library at Cornell University. The collection is remarkably useful to anyone interested in the history of rural life and economy in the United States, though it does not quite live up to its name. Covering agricultural economics, engineering, animal science, crops and their protection, food science, forestry, human nutrition, rural sociology, and soil science, this site offers the best single collection available on these subjects and in a familiar format. There are 846 monographs reproduced on the CHLA, or 315,766 pages. The material dates overwhelmingly from the twentieth century, with only a few books from the nineteenth, and no titles published before 1847.

There are so many highlights here and so much for historians to discover that any list will only reflect the fascinations of the compiler. Those interested in the complete works of Liberty Hyde Bailey will find his earliest book, The Survival of the Unlike (1896, a prescient essay on the genetics and culture of domesticated plants, a kind of Botany of Desire of the late nineteenth century), alongside his entire Cyclopedia of American Agriculture (4 vols., 1907–1909). Raymond Pool’s Marching with the Grasses (1948) is the most accessible work of one of the most accomplished researchers to come out of the Great Plains school of plant ecology. There is the medical (Alfred Fabian Hess, Scurvy, Past and Present, 1920), the political (Stephen A. Douglas Puter et al., Looters of the Public Domain, 1908), and the chemical (Harry James Deuel, The Lipids, Their Chemistry, 1951). Browsing brings up books on the history of breeds, on fibers and specialty crops, on policy briefs that ask “what’s wrong with the farmer?” There are twenty-nine books with “soil” in their titles.

Two subjects are well represented that might not, at first, spring to mind as existing within the subject of agriculture. The first is silviculture, or forestry, illustrated by such works as Ralph Chipman Hawley’s The Practice of Silviculture, with Particular Reference to Its Application in the United States (1921). Twenty-eight books have “forest” or “silviculture” in their titles. The second is rural sociology. The studies of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Home Missions, especially their Ohio rural life survey (1912), represent this discipline and have great value to scholars of migration, race relations, and households.

Calling this collection the “core” is awkward. Very few books cover the half century from 1850 to 1900, when machinery and irrigation first came into widespread use in the West. And no book published during the colonial period through the Mexican War is included. The regional diversity of the collection is also problematic. Only 15 books have one or more of the following words in their titles: cotton, tobacco, southern, plantation, Carolina, Virginia, or rice; but 101 books include one or more of these in their titles: milk, dairy, sheep, farm, pasture, or northern. This does not mean that only fifteen books consider the South, but it does indicate a northern bias. The CHLA does not appear to have any of the major agricultural periodicals, an omission that makes it much less useful than it might be, but at the very least the CHLA makes more accessible the collection of a great agricultural library.

Steven Stoll
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut