The work of Douglas Harper has for two decades documented worlds in eclipse. A glimpse into the life of dairy farmers in upstate New York on the cusp of technological change, Changing Works is no exception. With photographs and interviews with farmers, Harper brings into view a social world altered by machines and stuns us with gorgeous visions of rural times past. As a member of this community, Harper relates compelling stories about families and their dairies that reveal how the advent of industrialized labor changed the way farmers structure their work and organize their lives. His new book charts the transformation of American farming from small dairies based on animal power and cooperative work to industrialized agriculture.
Changing Works combines Harper's pictures with classic images by photographers such as Gordon Parks, Sol Libsohn, and Charlotte Brooks-men and women whose work during the 1940s documented the mechanization and automation of agricultural practices. Part social history, then, and part analysis of the drive to mass production, Changing Works examines how we farmed a half century ago versus how we do so today through pictures new and old and through discussions with elderly farmers who witnessed the makeover.
Ultimately, Harper challenges timely ecological and social questions about contemporary agriculture. He shows us how the dissolution of cooperative dairy farming has diminished the safety of the practice, degraded the way we relate to our natural environment, and splintered the once tight-knit communities of rural farmers. Mindful, then, of the advantages of preindustrial agriculture, and heeding the alarming spread of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, Changing Works harks back to the benefits of an older system.
"Changing works" refers to the common practice of farm neighbors exchanging and combining their labor to do large jobs such as threshing and haying. In the United States, this tradition had died by the mid-20th century owing to technological advances in farm machinery and other factors. Here, Harper (sociology, Duquesne Univ.) documents the resulting social, economic, and environmental changes via interviews with a number of dairy farmers from upstate New York. He focuses on life in the Northeast, especially New York state, with discussions of farm machinery and the switch from horses to tractors, harvesting, dairying, gender roles in farming, and, of course, changing works. Also discussed are old (mid-century) photographs of typical farm work, nearly 100 of which are reproduced here, along with numerous photographs taken more recently by the author. Harper concludes that while modern technology has greatly reduced the amount of backbreaking human labor required, much has been lost socially and environmentally in the continuing trend toward larger and fewer farms. His engaging, very readable study is highly recommended for rural history and sociology collections in academic and public libraries. William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.