ML713 Agricultural History: A Gastronomy Student’s Perspective

By:  Susan Brassard

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This spring 2013 semester, the Gastronomy Program is offering a seminar course focusing on the agricultural history of America, taught by Professor Sarah Phillips. The format of the course is built around several core readings that take an in-depth, historical look into the agricultural heritage within settlements in the American Northeast, Midwest, and South. The broad relevance of the course gives it appeal not only students of the gastronomy program, but also those majoring in history, policy, and the environment. The diversity of students promotes a wide range of discussion during weekly course gatherings.

The opening reading for this course was Brian Donahue’s The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord. The book offers an interesting look into the growth of agriculture and subsequent development of the land in Massachusetts. Readings expand from Concord’s wheat production to the tobacco fields of Virginia, from meat and grain industrialization in Chicago, to the cotton complex of the Mississippi Delta. Through readings and discussions, the course explores many interrelated themes including industrialization, expansion, crop selection, human labor, commodities, and government policy.

Maricopa County, Arizona.  John Jacob's farm. 1942
Maricopa County, Arizona. John Jacob’s farm. 1942

Students with an interest in current trends of organic foods, “green” business, and back-to-basics farming methods will thrive in this course. Deborah Fitzgerald’s Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture describes how the American farm evolved into the industrial apparatus that we are ambivalently familiar with today. This text also reveals how small independent farms became susceptible to excessive financial risk through increased dependence on modern agricultural technology.

Photo by Susan Brassard
Photo by Susan Brassard

Whether you are interested specifically in agriculture, or more generally in food systems, US history, policy, or sociology, ML713 Agricultural History offers an excellent opportunity for a range of students to explore the interconnection of these topics. I’m looking forward to the remaining discussions of course topics as well as the prospect of delving into my final research assignment.


Susan Brassard is a first year MLA Gastronomy student, culinary arts and business instructor at Salter College in West Boylston, and the owner of The Violet Rose Cakes, Catering & Pastries (

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