The Program in Agrarian Studies presents Thomas Alter, historian of the United States and Texas who specializes in transnational approaches to race, labor, capitalism, and protest movements:
“Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth: Agrarian Radicalism in US Political Culture, 1870s-1920s..”
Thomas Alter’s book, Toward a Cooperative Commonwealth: The Transplanted Roots of Farmer-Labor Radicalism in Texas (University of Illinois Press, 2022) uses three generations of a German-Texan family to explore the evolution and continuity of agrarian radicalism in the US and transnational influences on this tradition from the 1848 German Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, Irish republicanism, and the Bolshevik Revolution.
In the book, he argues that many of the organizations, parties, and unions of workers and farmers from the 1870s-1920s constituted a farmer-labor bloc, which in working independently of the two-party system moved US political culture to the left, making possible the reforms of the Progressive and New Deal eras.
The core of the Agrarian Studies Program’s activities is a weekly colloquium organized around an annual theme. Invited specialists send papers in advance that are the focus of an organized discussion by the faculty and graduate students associated with the colloquium.
This topic embraces, inter alia, the study of mutual perceptions between countryside and city, and patterns of cultural and material exchange, extraction, migration, credit, legal systems, and political order that link them.
It also includes an understanding of how different societies conceive of the spatial order they exhibit. What terms are meaningful and how are they related?: e.g., frontier, wilderness, arable, countryside, city, town, agriculture, commerce, “hills,” lowlands, maritime districts, inland. How have these meanings changed historically and what symbolic and material weight do they bear?