Agribusiness Historiography

Agribusiness Historiography

Thu, 18 Aug 1994 11 55 41 EDT Agribusiness Historiography

I have just completed two manual searches for articles and books about the notion of the rise of agribusiness in the U.S. since WWII. Since the public concern about agribusiness peaked in the late 60s/early 70s, I limited my search to the last twenty years.

The first survey was of all the articles and book reviews appearing in AGRICULTURAL HISTORY from 1970 to 1992. The second was of THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY's "Agriculture" section under recent articles from September 1993 to September 1973. I was disapointed with the results.

In AGRICULTURAL HISTORY I found only one article about changes in the grain storage industry, which has little to do with the main story. Important book reviews related to internationalization of Massey Ferguson, farm workers and agribusiness, irrigation and agribusiness in California, two books on U.S. grain exports, and a book entitled "The Politics of Food: The Decline of Agriculture and the Rise of Agribusiness in America" (1985), which I cannot find in our library.

In THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY's "Agriculture" section in 'recent scholarship' in the last 20 years I counted 1,128 entries. I could only find 4 or 5 articles that related to the subject I was searching for. One had to do with the milling industry in Kansas, two had to do with ag. businessmen in LA and WY, but the latter was before WWI, one with ag. businessmen in the New South, and the one that seems most appropriate, in Harvard Business Review, "U.S. Agribusiness Breaks Out of Isolation" (May-June 1975).

While books and articles don't seem to be tackling the subject head-on, agribusiness is mentioned in larger contexts in other books (Fite 1981; Bonnen 1980; Shover 1976). Morgan's "Merchants of Grain" tackles bigness and corporate control but from a journalistic standpoint.

Surely I must be missing significant works. I would appreciate ANY help I receive.

Jon Lauck University of Iowa

Thu, 18 Aug 1994 13:43:46 EDT

Though I have not made a conscious effort to look for material on this topic, I am not surprized by Jon Lauk's search results. I have seen little on this in the 10 years I've been Prairie History Librarian. What I have seen has been in the form of farm newspaper articles. Here in Canada, The Western Producer, (unindexed until four years ago) has articles on the topic. Jon has already mentioned Merchants of Grain, another journalistic approach. I would be interested in learning what others have found, especially in the grain and oilseeds business.

Ken Aitken

Thu, 18 Aug 1994 14:49:01 EDT Look in the Agricultural Economics journals such as the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, and a magazine published by the American Association of Agricultural Economics called Choices. There has been a lot written by Ag Economists on Agri-business

Bert Greenwalt Arkansas State University

Thu, 18 Aug 1994 14:49:23 EDT Rather than limit yourself to two specific journals, try using _America: History and Life_ the indexing and abstracting guide to history periodicals. It has an annual cumulation of its index for the more recent years and ten-year cumulative indexes for previous years. Please check with a reference librarian at your university library; s/he will be happy to show you all the new CD-ROM indexes available which will speed up--or eliminate- -manual searching.

Sue Hamburger Manuscripts Librarian Special Collections Dept. W342 Pattee Library Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802 814/865-2067 e-mail:

Thu, 18 Aug 1994 14:49:47 EDT

Larry Busch at Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing has done work on rapeseed, published a recent article in Crop Science.

Fri, 19 Aug 1994 08:19:32 EDT

I know a ton of stuff on American agribusiness (generally of the self-righteous-whine variety). Much of it appeals to "history" (or at least chronology) but little of it was authored by genu-whine historians. Some more interdisicplinary suggestions:

Classics, e.g.: Ralph Borsodi, This Ugly Civilization (1929 etc.) Luigi Ligutti, Rural Roads to Security (1940) Walter Godschmidt, As You Sow (1947 etc.) Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (UK, coining "Factory Farm" in 1964) [rec for selective precedent: George Lubick, "Restoring the American Dream," South Atlantic Quarterly (Winter '85)]

Personal Favorite: Michael Kramer, Three Farms (1977)

Sundry, oft-cited 1970s+: Anything by Wendell Berry and Barry Lopez (or Jeremy Rifkin, I guess) Joseph Amato, The Great Jerusalem Artiochoke Circus Heck, the whole natural foods, New Age scene is pretty inseparable from an ersatz "history" of agribusiness.

I'd also recommend the ag crisis bibliography assembled right here in our very own library by the husband-wife team of .... (?)

Gosh, I've forgotten their names. But THEY wouldn't forget anyone's. I gather that they are among the premier ag bibliographers.

But, gotta run. I just hope that gets you started.


Rich Horwitz

Fri, 19 Aug 1994 10:30:00 EDT If John Lauck's request about agribusiness had come to my library, I think my first suggestion would have been to go to the Business/Commerce library to use their indexing services. In the 1970s I was an Ag Econ bibliographer in the Agriculture library here at OSU, and as I recall, that was a popular source. It's been so many years, and the electronic formats have changed the names, I can't suggest a specific title.

Norma Bruce

Fri, 19 Aug 1994 16:12:27 EDT


Try Donald Pisani's "From the Family Farm to Agribusiness" which deals with the rise of agribusiness in CA. He also has several articles in Ag History.

What areas are you looking for and during what time frame? Try works about AZ, which had a big post WWII boom, and you may als want to try looking at the tangent issue of ag labor -- migrant workers, etc.

Those are the places I've previously found good information, try bibliographies of the books you browse as well.

Good luck!

Linda Peden ASU Dept of History

Linda S. Peden

Arizona State University, Department of History "The dust of exploded beliefs may make a fine sunset." -- Geoffrey Madan

Mon, 22 Aug 1994 11:49:37 EDT

          Earl M Rogers 319/335-5921                                            

I am half of Richard Horwitz's husband-wife bibliography team, new to H-RURAL. Our 1980s farm crisis book is harder on government than on business. For Jon Lauck's question, try two books by A.V. Krebs, The corporate reapers, 1992, and an excerpt from it published earlier, Heading for the last roundup, 1990. Both are held by the State Historical Society of Iowa library, Iowa City. The publishers may be too obscure for many academic libraries.

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Posted: 17 Jul 1995

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