Changing Works: Visions of a Lost Agriculture

Overview

The work of Douglas Harper has for two decades documented worlds in eclipse. A glimpse into the life of dairy farmers in upstate New York on the cusp of technological change, Changing Works is no exception. With photographs and interviews with farmers, Harper brings into view a social world altered by machines and stuns us with gorgeous visions of rural times past. As a member of this community, Harper relates compelling stories about families and their dairies that reveal how the advent of industrialized labor ...
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Overview

The work of Douglas Harper has for two decades documented worlds in eclipse. A glimpse into the life of dairy farmers in upstate New York on the cusp of technological change, Changing Works is no exception. With photographs and interviews with farmers, Harper brings into view a social world altered by machines and stuns us with gorgeous visions of rural times past. As a member of this community, Harper relates compelling stories about families and their dairies that reveal how the advent of industrialized labor changed the way farmers structure their work and organize their lives. His new book charts the transformation of American farming from small dairies based on animal power and cooperative work to industrialized agriculture.

Changing Works combines Harper's pictures with classic images by photographers such as Gordon Parks, Sol Libsohn, and Charlotte Brooks-men and women whose work during the 1940s documented the mechanization and automation of agricultural practices. Part social history and part analysis of the drive to mass production, Changing Works examines how we farmed a half century ago versus how we do today through pictures new and old and through discussions with elderly farmers who witnessed the makeover. Ultimately, Harper challenges timely ecological and social questions about contemporary agriculture. He shows us how the dissolution of cooperative dairy farming has diminished the safety of the practice, degraded the way we relate to our natural environment, and splintered the once tight-knit communities of rural farmers. Mindful, then, of the advantages of preindustrial agriculture, and heeding the alarming spread of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, Changing Works harks back to the benefits of an older system.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"Changing works" refers to the common practice of farm neighbors exchanging and combining their labor to do large jobs such as threshing and haying. In the United States, this tradition had died by the mid-20th century owing to technological advances in farm machinery and other factors. Here, Harper (sociology, Duquesne Univ.) documents the resulting social, economic, and environmental changes via interviews with a number of dairy farmers from upstate New York. He focuses on life in the Northeast, especially New York state, with discussions of farm machinery and the switch from horses to tractors, harvesting, dairying, gender roles in farming, and, of course, changing works. Also discussed are old (mid-century) photographs of typical farm work, nearly 100 of which are reproduced here, along with numerous photographs taken more recently by the author. Harper concludes that while modern technology has greatly reduced the amount of backbreaking human labor required, much has been lost socially and environmentally in the continuing trend toward larger and fewer farms. His engaging, very readable study is highly recommended for rural history and sociology collections in academic and public libraries. William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226317229
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Harper is professor of sociology at Duquesne University. He is the author of a number of works of visual ethnography and visual sociology—works that use photography as an innovative adjunct to ethnographic description. His books include Good Company, a much-acclaimed photographic portrait and narrative about tramps on the rails; Working Knowledge: Skill and Community in a Small Shop, a portrait of a mechanic and jack-of-all-trades; Changing Works: Visions of a Lost Agriculture, which explores the social world of dairy farmers in upstate New York; Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys, a tour of the city’s postcolonial urban landscape; and The Italian Way: Food and Social Life, on the role that food plays in the daily activities of Italians from all walks of life. All five of these books were published by the University of Chicago Press.

 

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Table of Contents

Introduction
The Project: An Overview The Standard Oil of New Jersey archive Research with Photographs Historical Frameworks
The Machine in the Garden
Horses and Tractors Horses and Tractors, Standard Oil of New Jersey Photographs Making Hay Oats and Corn: Changing Works The Corn Revolution The Meaning of Changing Works Gendered Worlds Souping Up Cows
The History since Then
Craft and Factory Farms, circa 1989
Factory farms and Megadairies The Scene at the Turn of the Millennium Notes References Index
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2005

    Review For Changing Works

    I found 'Changing Works' to be a very informative text in the area of technological advances in the dairy industry. Harper uses SONJ pictures to highlight wonderful interviews with various dairy farmers that farmed in the generation before World War II. These interviews bring the past back to life as the reader goes through the mechanization introductions such as replacement of horses and the reconstruction of the milking process. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about the dairy industry and to future dairymen. As an agricultural student, I was enthralled throughout the entire book. Harper tends to be less descriptive when it comes to the actual workings of the machinery, but it does not take much away from the rich narrative he weaves with the farmer' interviews. The reader gets a feeling of loss for the traditional ways that Harper projects throughout the book and it only enhances the content.

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