James Rick

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, College of William and Mary

2020 to 2021
Research Fellow

Cultivating Machines: Capitalism and Technology in Midwestern Agriculture, 1830-1900

American farms became populated by an increasing variety of farm machines in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. For the cultivation of wheat alone: scythes and cradles gave way to mechanical reapers, flails gave way to mechanical threshers, and hand sowing gave way to seed drills. Cultivating Machines seeks to understand the activities of rural people—including farm families, laborers, company agents, and rural blacksmiths—as the users, maintainers, and innovators of these machines. It interrogates how machines were compatible with existing economic, technological, and environmental systems as well as how the use of them reshaped those very systems. Engaging with the historiographies of agriculture, technology, and capitalism in the nineteenth-century United States, Cultivating Machines demonstrates the extents and limits of the ability of ordinary people to shape their technological world in the shifting conditions of emerging social systems.