JF: What led you to write Agriculture in the Midwest, 1815-1900?
DH: As an American historian and a native Midwesterner, I have been interested in the region for a long time. Although the agricultural history of the Midwest has been told in fragments, no one has attempted to write a comprehensive history of midwestern agricultural history. I decided to write an overview with sufficient specificity to provide readers with a broad understanding of the major events and developments that shaped the region’s agricultural history during the nineteenth century and relate that history to national historical developments. To create this narrative, I conducted considerable research in regional archives which I synthesized with pertinent secondary sources. By so doing, I wanted to focus historical understanding on the importance of the region’s agricultural history, because it has been little and often misunderstood if considered at all in American historical scholarship and public education.
JF: What is the argument of Agriculture in the Midwest, 1815-1900?
DH: The Midwest was a region that offered the promise of a better life based on easy access to rich farmland. Persistence, innovation, and agricultural education as well as political activism and government policy enabled success, even prosperity, for most farm men and women, but not all.
JF: Why do we need to read Agriculture in the Midwest, 1815-1900?
DH: The United States is an urban nation. Few people know much about agriculture and even less about American agricultural history as a shaping force in the nation’s economic, social, and political development. This book discusses land policy, western expansion, livestock raising, technological change, the effects of the Civil War, utopian groups, Irish colonization, agricultural education, and political reform, among other topics, to show the significance of the region’s agricultural development to the broader landscape of American history during the nineteenth century.
JF: Why and when did you become an American historian?
DH: I decided to become an American historian as a graduate student when working on my master’s degree. I became fascinated with the People’s Party and its relationship to farmers in the South and Midwest. I continued my interest in American agricultural history when I worked on my Ph.D. and as a postdoctoral fellow in the history of science and technology at the Smithsonian Institution.
JF: What is your next project?
DH: I am working on a book manuscript titled “Agriculture during the American Revolution.”
JF: Thanks, Douglas!