Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Seeds of agribusiness: Grant Wood and the visual culture of grain farming, 1862–1957
by Nygard, Travis Earl, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2009, 438; 3400492
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation uses selected works of Grant Wood’s art as a touchstone to investigate a broader visual culture surrounding agriculture in America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By doing so I argue that Wood engaged with pressing social questions, including the phenomenon now referred to as agribusiness. Although agribusiness is often associated with the Green Revolution of the 1940s and 1950s, its beginning dates to the nineteenth century. Indeed, Wood’s lifetime was an era when land was consolidated, production and distribution were vertically integrated, and breeding became scientifically informed. To access the power dynamics of this transition, I begin each chapter with work by Wood, and then analyze it in conjunction with imagery produced by or for individuals with diverse cultural agendas. This wide range of voices includes government officials, members of socialist farm organizations, newspaper publishers, plant breeders, owners of large and small farms, auction house managers, and university educators. To show precedents for and the legacy of Wood’s work I begin my analysis of visual culture before his birth and end after his death. The dissertation thus begins in 1862—the year that land in the Midwest began to be parceled out for grain farming as small 160-acre homesteads and gargantuan bonanza farms thousands of acres in size. The dissertation ends in 1957—the year that the term agribusiness was coined by the Harvard-based economists John Davis and Ray Goldberg. I take an interdisciplinary approach anchored most fully within the norms of art history, but also engage with strategies from visual, cultural, and agricultural studies. My argument, ultimately, is that agribusiness is a cornerstone of modern thinking, and that Grant Wood was not only aware of the experiences, debates, institutions, and theories of agribusiness emerging in his midst but engaged with them in his fine art. More broadly, by using a wide range of imagery, including photography, advertising, penmanship, film stills, crops, cartoons, architecture, and diagrams I show that the way Americans came to understand and accept agribusiness as the basis of their food system was negotiated, in part, through visual materials.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Savage, Kirk
Commitee:
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 71/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American studies, American history, Art history
Keywords: Agribusiness, Agronomy, Grain farming, Visual culture, Wood, Grant
Publication Number: 3400492
ISBN: 9781109672428
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