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Nygard, Travis Earl (2010) SEEDS OF AGRIBUSINESS: GRANT WOOD AND THE VISUAL CULTURE OF GRAIN FARMING, 1862-1957. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation uses selected works of Grant Wood's art as a touchtone 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.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Nygard, Travis
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduKSA
Committee MemberMcCloskey, Barbarabmcc@pitt.eduBMCC
Committee MemberArmstrong, Christopher Drewcda68@pitt.eduCDA68
Committee MemberZboray, Ronald Jzboray@pitt.eduZBORAY
Date: 28 January 2010
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 4 December 2009
Approval Date: 28 January 2010
Submission Date: 10 December 2009
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Agronomy; Betty Crocker; Bonanza Farms; Chicago Board of Trade; Corn; Epic of Wheat; Flour Milling; Frank Norris; General Mills; Henry Agard Wallace; Nonpartisan League; United States; Wheat
Other ID:, etd-12102009-160845
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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