Stewardship of the Land and Stewardship of the Past: Tennessee Agricultural History and Public History

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Guttormson, Elaura Danielle
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Middle Tennessee State University
Tennessee’s agricultural history provides a lens through which to examine the macro history of change over time in relation to adaptive technology, the increasing dependence on industrial agriculture as family farms face insurmountable competition, and the evolving rural community as people labor for food and fiber production. However, public historians have played a relatively minor role in the interpretation of Tennessee agricultural history, even though one Agricultural Extension Agent initiated a statewide collection of farm-related artifacts and created an accompanying museum. This dissertation addresses that gap in public history by analyzing historic properties and museums in Tennessee that interpret agricultural history. By relying on existing scholarship on Tennessee agricultural history, the dissertation reveals the discrepancies between the lived experiences of Tennessee agriculturalists and the attenuated versions often presented at historic sites and museums. It focuses on the Tennessee Agricultural Museum in Nashville as the premier example of the state’s relationship with these stories. While evaluating public historians’ previous interpretation of Tennessee agricultural history, it also petitions for increased study, promotion, and integration of agricultural history at historic sites throughout the state.
Museum studies, Agriculture, History