In the small communities of Wisconsin a rich blend of European cultures and practices survive. These communities and their people are unique in the ways they have responded to change in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century.
Jane Marie Pederson looks at two neighboring rural communities, Lincoln and Pigeon Falls, in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. "Here," Pederson writes, "families still live on the farms settled over a century ago, often on the land first tilled by a distant ancestor." Building upon Merle Curti's classic work of social history set in the same county, The Making of an American Community, she tells a dramatically different story. Whereas Curti focused on the frontier years of this region, Pederson shows how distinct local ethnic cultures "between memory and reality" were established as communities changed and settled over the course of a century. She demonstrates the dynamic process of change these two communities experienced during the post-frontier years. Rather than developing into undifferentiated modern communities or becoming poorer and less sophisticated versions of urban culture, Lincoln and Pigeon Falls created their own distinct communities and cultures from a variety of sources.
These rural ethnic cultures were sustained into the second half of the twentieth century by rural women and men who actively shaped their own political economy, institutions, and mentality out of their memories of earlier traditions and from the opportunities and challenges of the rural American environment. Pederson pays particular attention to gender as a category of analysis, tracing the adaptation of traditional peasant courtship patterns and social rituals into the contemporary pattern of culture, work, and community.
Counters the "agrarian myth," that imagines American farms as bucolic backwaters that have remained unchanged for centuries. Traces the evolution of family and community life in rural Wisconsin through the century that saw rapid industrialization and the migration of a majority of Americans to the cities. Paper edition (unseen), $17.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)