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Creating Abundance
Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development


  • Date Published: November 2008
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521673877

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About the Authors
  • This book demonstrates that American agricultural development was far more dynamic than generally portrayed. In the two centuries before World War II, a stream of biological innovations revolutionized the crop and livestock sectors, increasing both land and labor productivity. Biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture onto new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining production in the face of evolving threats from pests, and for the creation of the modern livestock sector. These innovations established the foundation for the subsequent Green and Genetic Revolutions. The book challenges the misconceptions that, before the advent of hybrid corn, American farmers single-mindedly invested in labor-saving mechanical technologies and that biological technologies were static.

    • Offers a fresh analysis of what transformed wheat, corn, cotton, tobacco, and speciality crop production
    • Combines new archival research with the sophisticated analysis of modern economics
    • An innovative analysis of the development of the Atlantic States, the Cotton South, the Corn Belt, the Wheat States, and Pacific Coast
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is an important book! It traces the stream of biological innovation that over a period of two centuries has transformed the technical landscape of American agriculture. It demonstrates that biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture to new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining and enhancing productivity in the face of evolving threats from pests, soil degradation and depletion, for creating modern livestock breeds, for enhancing feed efficiency, and for protecting animal and human health. It will be the standard against which the next generation of research in the history of agricultural technology will be evaluated.' Vernon W. Ruttan, University of Minnesota

    'In Creating Abundance Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode examine an important, but often neglected, aspect of American economic growth over the course of several centuries. Based on extensive research in a large variety of primary and secondary sources, including numerous state and national agricultural reports and related private documents, they describe in great detail the important biological developments influencing crop and livestock productivity. This is an original and superb work of scholarship. This book should be of interest to all economic historians, historians, and agricultural economists.' Stanley L. Engerman, University of Rochester

    'In an era focusing on sustainability and climate change, Creating Abundance should be required reading for environmentalists, economists, and policy makers, as well as for economic, environmental and technological historians (and their students). This is so because even as virtuous cycles of biological innovation have overcome tough constraints, in agriculture biological contingencies and unanticipated consequences persist. The culmination of nearly two decades of extensive, patient, and inclusive research, Creating Abundance combines theoretical sophistication with a supple writing style to illuminate both a host of planning/policy advances and errors and the centrality of engaged practitioners' efforts in building flexible and responsive relationships with the natural world. A profound and compelling corrective to generations of scholarship on American agricultural development.' Philip Scranton, Rutgers University

    'Olmstead and Rhode's brilliant new book, Creating Abundance, is the most significant work on the economic history of American agriculture to appear in a generation. In emphasizing the early role and persistent importance of biological innovation in American agricultural development, the authors fundamentally recast the story of our farm sector. Rigorous in theoretical terms, well argued, and deeply researched, Creating Abundance, upon publication, becomes not merely the standard, but the indispensable work in the field.' Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina

    'Creating Abundance is a panoramic survey of American agricultural development, dramatically altering the standard narrative focused exclusively on mechanization. In the process, Olmstead and Rhode relocate farming from the periphery squarely into the mainstream of American economic history. Anyone looking for the lessons of the American experience for developing economies should read this book.' Gavin Wright, Stanford University

    'This brilliant book challenges one of the dominant interpretations of history. The standard story of the industrial revolution holds that rapid economic growth came from replacing people and animals with machinery. Olmstead and Rhode show that the standard story is only half right. Agricultural yields soared in the age of industrialization because farmers and scientists updated plants and animals just as much as machinery. This book provides a fresh and exciting interpretation of economic, technological, and agricultural history that should inspire others to look for other arenas in which biological innovation has played a more important role than we have suspected.' Edmund Russell, University of Virginia

    'You will not regret your time spent with Olmstead and Rhode.' Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture

    '… [there is] much to admire in what Olmstead and Rhode have done and - almost as importantly - how they have done it … generating new questions in a subject area that has for too long lain fallow.' The British Journal for the History of Science

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2008
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521673877
    • length: 480 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.62kg
    • contains: 35 b/w illus. 7 colour illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. The red queen and the hard reds: productivity growth in American wheat, 1800–1940
    3. Corn: America's crop
    4. Cotton: variety innovation and the making of king cotton
    5. Weevils, worms, and wilts: the red queen's cotton playground
    6. The other revolution in the cotton economy: cotton's revival in the twentieth century
    7. That 'stinking weed of America': the evolution of tobacco production
    8. California: creating a cornucopia
    9. Livestock in the farm economy
    10. Defining and redesigning America's livestock
    11. Nature's perfect food: inventing the modern dairy industry
    12. Draft power
    13. Conclusion: tying it together.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Food Systems I
    • science, technology & society
  • Authors

    Alan L. Olmstead, University of California, Davis
    Alan L. Olmstead is Director of the Institute of Governmental Affairs, Professor of Economics, and member of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California, Davis. He is one of the six editors-in-chief of Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition (2006), and his writings appear regularly in the leading economics and history journals.

    Paul W. Rhode, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Paul W. Rhode is McClelland Professor of Economics at the University of Arizona and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is co-editor (with Gianni Toniolo) of The Global Economy in the 1990s: A Long-Run Perspective (2006). He is a frequent contributor to prominent economics and history journals.

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