Sunday, January 6, 2013

Beginning the background research

It is 2013 and my grant work begins!

This week I set to work reading historic contexts and organizing site-specific research. I need to read about the history of farming and farm buildings before the field work starts in order to better understand the farmsteads I will be looking at: why they look the way they do and what they mean.

I started my agricultural readings, not with New Jersey material, but with the "Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project" found at I knew that this effort to develop the agricultural contexts tied with with the architectural aspects of farming had been in the works for some time, so I checked in to the Pennsylvania SHPO website again and was really "wowed." There I found "narrative histories describing the evolution of different farming systems around the state, historic census data, a field guide to historic farm buildings and landscapes, and bibliographic resources. Developed to support the evaluation of farming resources for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, the project provides the data and guidance needed for state and federal agencies, scholars, teachers, and the public." The principal investigator and project coordinator is Sally McMurry, Professor of History at Penn State University, also a longtime member of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

My thinking is that southwestern New Jersey's agricultural history may have settlement and market patterns and even built resources similar to southeastern Pennsylvania's, since they are both part of the Delaware Valley. In any event, it is turning out that the guidance provided for evaluating resources will really help me with my farm study here in Salem County!

What Sally McMurry has done for Pennsylvania has not been done in New Jersey. There is no state context of ag history written through the lens of agricultural buildings.

Another work I am reading for the same reason is Rebecca Sheppard's recent dissertation “Making the farm pay: Persistence and adaptation in the evolution of Delaware’s agricultural landscape, 1780-2005.” It rested in part upon the evidence of the over 450 farms recorded or surveyed there by the Center for Historic Architecture and Design since 1985. Becky Sheppard, also a long-time VAFer, will be helping me document the Salem County farms for my grant project, so her insight from Delaware will be greatly helpful in shaping my understanding of the buildings we will be recording. 

Closer to home, I am reading Land Use in New Jersey: A Historical Geography by two eminent scholars of early New Jersey: geographer Peter O. Wacker and historian Paul G. E. Clemens, both of Rutgers University.  The book, a late Christmas gift from my brother, just arrived in the mail this week. How timely! Using sources like farm diaries, account books, and tax records, the authors looked for "what notions shaped the agricultural lives of farm families" and explored the interplay of market relationships and community life from settlement to 1820.

Histories of New Jersey agriculture by Carl Raymond Woodward (The Development of Agriculture in New Jersey, 1640-1880 a Monographic Study in Agricultural History) and Hubert G. Schmidt (Agriculture in New Jersey: a Three-hundred-year History) will require a trip to the library in the coming weeks. For that I will trek to Morris Library at my alma mater, the University of Delaware.

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