Preferred Name

Naomi Ulmer

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Philip Herrington

John Butt

Lamont King


This research examines how farmers in Pennsylvania between 1785 and 1870 were persuaded by georgic agrarianism to take social, economic and even moral risks to abandon a semi-subsistence mode of production in favor of commercial production. The georgic rhetoric is derived from Virgil’s poem “The Georgics.” It discusses agriculture and man’s labor in nature. Virgil discusses the relationship between man, nature and his ability, or inability, to control nature to ensure his own survival. Beginning in the late 18th century, supporters of improved agriculture, mostly wealthy and upper-class gentlemen, tried to persuade common yeomen farmers to produce for the commercial market. Yeomen were pushed to use new and experimental methods to produce the highest yields possible using the most efficient methods. Common yeomen farmers scoffed at the idea. They saw experiments of gentlemen farmers as a needless risk and expense. Supporters of improved farming started three georgic institutions in Pennsylvania to put yeomen at ease. First were agricultural societies such as the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture in 1785. A distinct pro-improvement press began in the 1820s and finally, a state funded agricultural college in 1855 called the Farmer’s High School, now the Pennslyvania State University. In return for farmers taking on the hard work of manipulating the natural environment for the benefit of humankind, georgic agrarianism in the late eighteenth and nineteenth-century America promised farmers practical advantages as well as philosophical fulfillment. These benefits include, increased cash profits, a unique usefulness to the democracy and thus, most importantly, respect for their virtuous service providing food, fiber and fuel for the nation. In short, georgic ideals pinned hopes of sustained independence and prosperity, of individuals and the nation, on the improvement



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