1. People (Individuals who live on the farm, grow crops, raise livestock, sell the goods, eat the goods, etc.)

2. Economics (The consideration of profit/ loss of money in farming)

3. Environment (The land planted, harvested or grazed upon -farming-, and the lands and people effected by those practices)

4. Policy (Laws, legislation, and regulations focused on protecting and/or restricting agriculture)

5. Technology (Inventions, farming methods and practices, equipment, businesses, and mechanization used in agricultural production)
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 Extended  American agricultural history bibliography
 Extended  European agricultural history bibliography
Immediate/Personal (How did your family arrive in your hometown?)
Cultural (Why does government work the way it does?)
Factual (What did farmers grow?)
Change (society, people, or place) = History
Time (past to present)
Change in agriculture = Agricultural History
Time (past to present)
1. Primary
2. Secondary
We extend a warm thank you to the Iowa State University Center for On-Line Learning and the Iowa State University Department of History for their support of this project.

To begin, we need to understand what history is. History is the study of everything in the past. Historians study the past in order to understand it. They also study how events affected societies and people. Despite the common sentiment, history does change. As historians examine, investigate, and explore past events they revise earlier explanations of the past, add new information, and revise existing answers to historical questions. In essence, historians study the change of events throughout the past. In mathematical terms:

Why study History?

The more we know about the past, the better we can understand how societies evolved, why specific problems arise, and how others have addressed those problems.

In order to understand past events, historians are generally concerned with three main questions.

Historians formulate the answers to those questions based on interpretation of information passed down generation to generation.

Fields of History

Historians group themselves into fields based on the kinds of questions they ask, the types of information they work with, and the approaches they utilize. Some of the primary historical fields include:

Defining Agriculture

Many individuals have defined agriculture differently to fit their needs. However, agriculture includes a few main components. Those components include land, plants, animals, and the manipulation of those components by humans with the goal of creating resources, food, fiber, and/or a profit. While the definition adequately defines agriculture, it does not indicate the complexity of what agriculture is. Broadly, agriculture includes:

Agricultural History

Agricultural history is the study of agriculture (economics, environment, people, policy, and technology) over a certain span of time.

How do agricultural historians research?

Methods of researching

Agricultural historians rely upon numerous methods and sources found in many locations to write history. Materials used by historians are found in numerous places such as libraries, archives, private collections, government buildings, churches, and even the internet (although individuals need to be careful to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of content from the internet!). Historians refer to these pieces of information as sources.


Some of the most commonly used agricultural history sources include the agricultural census, population census, court records, land records, journals, diaries, church records, ledgers and account books, government records, advertising, newspapers, artifacts, narratives/ memoirs, and oral histories. Sources used by historians fall into two categories:

Primary Source

A primary source is a document created at the time of the event or subject you have chosen to study. It may also be a document by people who were observers of or participants in that event or topic. The primary source can be anything, including written texts, objects, buildings, films, photographs, paintings, cartoons, etc. The key to remembering what makes the source a primary source is when it was made. For example, a farmer's diary written in the year 1856 would be a primary source document because the farmer discussing his life, at the time it was occurring, wrote it.

Secondary Source

A secondary source is a book or article written by a historian or other scholar. Secondary sources are twice removed from the actual event or process the author is examining. So, while an historian's introduction to Rebecca Burlend's A True Picture of Emigration (1848) is a secondary source, the book written by Mrs. Burlend is a primary source. Another example of a secondary source is the history textbook that you use in school. Many authors contributed to writing the book about events that happened to other people in the past.

Putting it to Use

Now that you understand what Agricultural History is, explore the website for essays written by agricultural historians. Begin by picking one of the major categories (Economics, Environment, People, Policy, and Technology) and read!
Rick L. Woten


Carr, Edward. What is History? London: Macmillan Publishing, 1961.

Daiker, Donald.,
The Writer's Options: Combining to Composing. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

Dickerson, Mary Jane and Henry J. Steffens.
Writer's Guide: History. Lexington: D. C. Heath and Company, 1987.

Kennedy, Mary Lynch, William J. Kennedy, Hadley M. Smith.
Writing in the Disciplines. A Reader for Writers. Upper Saddle River New Jersey: Prentice, 1996

Marius, Richard.
A Short Guide to Writing about History. New York: Longman, 2002.

Further Readings

Cannadine, David. What is History Now? New York: Palgrave Press, 2002.

Collingwood, R.G. "What is History?" Susan Miller, ed.,
The Written World. Reading and Writing in Social Contexts. New York: Harper, 1989 (336-341). html

Husbands, Christopher T.
What is History Teaching?; Language, Ideas, and Meanings in Learning about the Past. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1996.

Jenkins, Keith.
Why History?: Ethics and Postmodernity. London: Rutledge Press, 1999.

Lerner, Gerda.
Why History Matters?: Life and Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Oakeshott, Michael.
What is History?: And other Essays. Exeter, Imprint Academic, 2004.

Reeves, Marjorie.
Why History? London: Longman Press, 1980.

Southgate, Beverly C.
What is History For? London: Rutledge Press, 2005.