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Posts tagged ‘Agriculture’

Many parts of history would be easily forgotten if we did not have those who are committed to recording it.

“When I started, much of the historical information wasn’t available.” recalls Purdue professor Fred Whitford.

Now, after authoring more than 250 research, extension, and regulatory publications, delivering over 5,800 presentations to a wide array of audiences, and writing several books about the history of Indiana agriculture, Whitford is responsible for a great deal of what is known about the history of agriculture and extension in Indiana.

Whitford’s books include Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family: A Photo History of Indiana’s Early County Extension Agents; Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge: The Words and Works of Indiana’s Pioneer County Extension Agents; For the Good of the Farmer: A Biography of John Harrison Skinner, Dean of Purdue AgricultureThe Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture: The Biography of William Carroll Lattaand The Queen of American Agriculture: A Biography of Virginia Claypool MeredithThese books study the history of agriculture and extension agents at Purdue and in Indiana, often through concentrating on important figures throughout our history. (Find a flyer for the series of books here)

John Calvin Allen, professionally known as J.C., is one of those figures. He worked as a photographer for Purdue University from 1909-1952, and operated his own photography business until his death in 1976.  Allen’s photos are the source for Whitford’s upcoming book Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J. C. Allen (September 2019), co-authored by Neal Harmeyer an archivist at the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. The book uses Allen’s photographs, which were taken on glass slides, to get a unique look at Indiana’s agricultural history.

“People love old pictures,” says Whitford, “it brings people back.”

This volume contains over 900 images, most never-before-seen, of men, women, and children working on the farm, which remain powerful reminders of life in rural America at the turn of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the collection of photographs is the importance of the the time period they cover. They act as a historical account of a major transitional period for agriculture. “He told the story of change” says Whitford, he explains that it was a time when tractors replaced horses, and superior crops and animals were being introduced.

Why research the history of agriculture and extension in Indiana in such an expansive way? Whitford believes that the past repeats itself, and that learning from it will always have value.

“We take so many things for granted, and all of these things we take for granted had to start somewhere.” says Whitford.

Just as important, it’s a reminder of culture and mission.

“It shows what the culture of extension is, we’ve always been here to help.” says Whitford. “We are here to serve growers.”



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Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J.C. Allen will be available in September 2019. Get 30% off when you order directly from the Purdue University Press website and enter the code “PURDUE30” at checkout.

9781557537430Discover a hidden facet of Indiana’s long agricultural history in Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family: A Photo History of Indiana’s Early County Extension Agents. Follow the story of early extension agents on their journey through rural farmland in never before seen photos. These agents worked hand in hand with local farmers to improve agricultural practices and the way of life across the state with research from Purdue University and other institutions.

Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family is an officially endorsed legacy project for Indiana’s Bicentennial illustrating the importance of agricultural development through technology, research and extension.

Two Purdue faculty members, Fredrick Whitford (F.W.) and David Hovde (D.H.) and archivist Neal Harmeyer (N.H.) worked together to compose this book. Each author spent countless hours in the Purdue University Libraries Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center discovering photos and weaving together the stories of Indiana’s Extension agents, farmers and agriculture history. Find out each of their motivations and insights on the book in our Q&A with the authors: Fred, David and Neal.

What lead to the creation of this book?

4HFairF.W.While working on another book I noticed the wonderful photographs that the extension agents were taking as part of their annual reports. With the bicentennial coming up, it looked like a great time to showcase what some of the original Extension agents did as part of their efforts in getting the Extension service started in the state.

N.H. — This book came into being after it became apparent these images told the story of early 20th century Indiana agriculture. After discussing the sheer number of images, variety of subjects and activities captured, it became apparent a book would introduce readers to an important part of Hoosier history.

How was it to research within the Purdue Archives and Special Collections to determine dates, locations, and significance of each photo?

.— We were lucky from the start, that these photos were saved in the archives. The photos are one of a kind treasures. The fact that they were in folders labeled by year helped immensely. What was really encouraging was that many had names associated with them. I have used these photos in the counties where these people lived and buildings once existed. People have seen relatives like great grandfathers that they had never seen before from the photos preserved in the archives.

How does Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family tie into the culture and heritage of Indiana?

Car photo3

N.H.— As Indiana celebrates its bicentennial in 2016, one naturally looks back to its centennial. A hundred years ago, which coincides with many of the images in the book, agriculture was a way of life for many Hoosiers. As the state looked ahead to its second century, changes in technology and the agricultural marketplace were beginning to take root. Generations of families farmed the same land, always striving to maintain their family heritage. My own family is one of those, and to catch even a glimpse into the world of my ancestors was special. I think readers of Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family will also uncover those familial connections and grow to understand the work ethic, ingenuity, and strength of our Hoosier forbearers.

D.H.— This books explores an often overlooked aspect of Indiana history. Indiana remains a state with a large agricultural economy.  It tells the story of how the Purdue Extension agents helped farmers view what they were doing as a business. Also, it demonstrates how these agents, through their educational practices, improved the health of both the people and animals, the local economy, and welfare of the community as a whole.

How does Extension farming exist today and how does this project show its evolution?

F.W.— The first Extension educators were at the forefront of modern farming. They were seeing the first introductions of lime, tractors, hybrid corn, and much more.

What did you learn from working on this project?

D.H. — The subject of the book is a part of Purdue University’s and Indiana’s history I knew little about.  It was a fascinating exploration into the rural Midwestern life of the early twentieth century. It features some aspects of the technology and culture that had changed little from the pioneer period.

What was your favorite part of working on this project?

field photoN.H.— My favorite part was learning more about how different parts of Indiana worked together through Purdue Extension to improve not only their farms and way of life, but the way of life for people across the United States and the world. The ability for a farmer to take part in cutting-edge research in a controlled and targeted way meant that farmers were no longer at the whim of the elements. Instead, farmers were able to work with allies to strengthen their ability to make a living. That was, and still is, exciting and tremendously enjoyable to read and learn more about during the process of creating this book.

D.H.I enjoyed looking deep into the photographs, examining the details of the material culture, the clothing, the technology, the activities and the expression on peoples’ faces.  Many times we had discussions over which one of a half dozen images would best show the topic we were discussing. Many times it was a hard decision.

About the Authors

Fredrick Whitford
Frederick Whitford works for the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service in the College of Agriculture. He received a BS in wildlife management from Louisiana Tech University, and an MS and PhD in entomology from Iowa State University. He has authored more than 250 research, extension, and regulatory publications, and has delivered at least 5,000 presentations to a wide array of audiences. He has written several other books about the history of Indiana agriculture, all published by Purdue University Press.

Neal Harmeyer
Neal Harmeyer is an archivist at Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. Harmeyer grew up on a multigenerational family farm in northeastern Fayette County, Indiana, where he helped raise animals. He earned a BA degree in history from Purdue and an MLS degree from Indiana University.

David M. Hovde
David M. Hovde, the research and instruction librarian in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center, is an associate professor of library science and has been at Purdue University since 1989. He has authored or coauthored numerous monographs, books, book chapters, and articles in archaeology, history, semiotics, and pedagogy.