Doctoral candidate Chris D'Arpa successfully defended her dissertation, "'Procure, propagate, and distribute among the people': The information service functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1862-1888," on May 30.
Her committee included Associate Professor Emerita Christine Jenkins (chair), Professor Alistair Black, Professor Emeritus Dan Schiller, and Professor Linda C. Smith.
From the abstract: Prior to the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and concurrent with its growth and development, farmers had myriad ways of sharing and communicating agricultural information. Some of that information was rooted in experimental practice but much of it was anecdotal and based on years of farming experience. The historiography of U.S. agriculture demonstrates that farmers both needed and used that information – information they created, circulated, and consumed in their work as farmers. The introduction of information work at the Department of Agriculture not only altered the kind and amount of information that farmers had access to but effectively sought to redefine who the “experts” were through the production and dissemination of the results of applied scientific research for agriculture conducted by scientists at the newly formed Department or work by others filtered through the institution and thus vetted by it. The vehicle for much of this information transfer was the annual reports of the Department of Agriculture. This dissertation is an historical examination of the development of the Department of Agriculture that looks specifically at its information functions from 1862-1888 – the period under the commissionership and before it was elevated to cabinet-level status. Using the annual reports of the Department of Agriculture to identify and examine those functions, I situate the information work of the Department of Agriculture within the context of the emergence of the modern state and American empire, industrializing capitalism, and the history of information.
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