Pastoral Nature: Agrarianism and Rural America

Pastoral Nature
Kevin Anderson's farm in Pennsylvania

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In 1785, Thomas Jefferson famously asserted that, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to its liberty & interests by the most lasting bands,” and he wanted to see America transformed into a democratic pastoral arcadia of farms and ranches. This pastoral nature is the competing concept of American nature focused on farmland and ranchland in contrast to wilderness.
Moreover, as American cities grew, rural life and nature in the countryside was seen as a cure for over-urbanized Americans who needed a weekend in the country to recover from the stress of city life. Today, the American small family farm is still an idealized place of encounter and engagement with rural nature, best championed by Wendell Berry, who, like Jefferson, sees small farms as a cure for social problems and modern society’s mismanagement of nature. Thus, there is great cultural tension and a historic divide in the geography of the American mind between wilderness and pastoral nature. Join us as we explore the history of this idea of pastoral nature and its role in shaping contemporary agrarianism in America.

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