Date of Award

5-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

History

First Advisor

Victoria Grieve

Abstract

In 1977, riding a wave of environmental enthusiasm that had crested in the United States over the course of the previous decade, Wendell Berry published his classic agricultural jeremiad, The Unsettling of America. Berry, a novelist, poet, essayist, and farmer decried the environmental and cultural consequences of the large-scale, commercial agriculture that had overtaken the American landscape in the postwar years. He characterized the shift away from a producerist economy of independent farmers to a society oriented around consumption and growth as a Faustian bargain, an agricultural “colonialism” that devalued the individual and ravaged the land in the name of Progress. “It is necessary to account for a new intensity of greed,” he wrote, “a greed newly empowered, under no constraint to see itself as evil, allied (so it believes) with a manifest destiny and the way of the world.”1 Underlying the trend toward largescale industrial production and its accompanying ecological degradation, according to the author, was a Cartesian split – an insidious psychological dualism with deep roots in the Western tradition. Berry argued that a disembodied rationalism concerning economic affairs prevented Americans from fully acknowledging the environmental and cultural costs of their destructive relationship to the land. The severance of mind from body – the separation of physical and metaphysical realities – contributed to a literal and metaphoric uprooting, destroying in the process a moral order founded on the intuitive understanding of ecological principles. Generational knowledge and respect for place had lost out to the ideology of technological optimism and unlimited economic growth.

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