The 4-H Harvest
Sexuality and the State in Rural AmericaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Politics and Culture in Modern America
4-H, the iconic rural youth program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has enrolled more than 70 million Americans over the last century. As the first comprehensive history of the organization, The 4-H Harvest tracks 4-H from its origins in turn-of-the-century agricultural modernization efforts, through its role in the administration of federal programs during the New Deal and World War II, to its status as an instrument of international development in Cold War battlegrounds like Vietnam and Latin America.
In domestic and global settings, 4-H's advocates dreamed of transforming rural economies, communities, and families. Organizers believed the clubs would bypass backward patriarchs reluctant to embrace modern farming techniques. In their place, 4-H would cultivate efficient, capital-intensive farms and convince rural people to trust federal expertise. The modern 4-H farm also featured gender-appropriate divisions of labor and produced healthy, robust children. To retain the economic potential of the "best" youth, clubs insinuated state agents at the heart of rural family life. By midcentury, the vision of healthy 4-H'ers on family farms advertised the attractiveness of the emerging agribusiness economy.
With rigorous archival research, Gabriel N. Rosenberg provocatively argues that public acceptance of the political economy of agribusiness hinged on federal efforts to establish a modern rural society through effective farming technology and techniques as well as through carefully managed gender roles, procreation, and sexuality. The 4-H Harvest shows how 4-H, like the countryside it often symbolizes, is the product of the modernist ambition to efficiently govern rural economies, landscapes, and populations.
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. Signs of the State
Chapter 1. Agrarian Futurism, Rural Degeneracy, and the Origins of 4-H
Chapter 2. Financial Intimacy and Rural Manhood
Chapter 3. 4-H Body Politics in the 1920s
Chapter 4. Conserving Farm and Family in New Deal 4-H
Chapter 5. Citizenship and Difference in Wartime 4-H
Chapter 6. International 4-H in the Cold War
Epilogue. Future Farmers of Afghanistan: Agrarian Futurism at the Twilight of Empire
"Eureka! Who would have thought that a history of the 4-H club could brilliantly illuminate so many far corners of knowledge: state projects of masculinity and reproduction, patriotism, modernity, imperialism, race, eugenics and more. Gabriel N. Rosenberg's bio-political view is original, surprising, deeply-sourced, convincing, and a delightful read."—James C. Scott, Yale University
"This beautifully crafted study offers a braided history of the state, the body, and the countryside. At its center is the 4-H club, which Rosenberg brilliantly reveals not as a nostalgic relic of an agrarian past but as an active engine of modern bio-politics. Whether or not you have ever set foot at the county fair, The 4-H Harvest is an absorbing and utterly original read."—Margot Canaday, Princeton University
"Gabriel N. Rosenberg's masterful history of 4-H is the first in-depth study of an institution that every historian of agriculture, not to mention every rural American, recognizes as an essential component of the modern rural landscape. The project delivers a sophisticated mix of cultural, political, and economic history that exposes the hidden hands and visible bodies at work in constructing twentieth-century U.S. governance in the American heartland."—Shane Hamilton, University of Georgia