Abstract

This address is an exploration of a lifetime of disparate and often conflicting observations about how different people view what is right and good for agriculture, food, and farmers around the world. The exploration utilizes the concept of wicked problems to focus on the issue of differing historical interpretations of global agricultural development. Sandra Bade defines wicked problems as "dynamically complex, ill-structured, public problems" for which "there can be radically different views and understanding of the problem by different stakeholders, with no unique ’correct’ view. "The wicked problem construct is applied to four core ideas in the history of agricultural development—small farms, cash crops, agrarian ideals, and international development—to demonstrate the potential for using this concept to approach complex problems of historical interpretation and contribute to solutions to the challenges of global agricultural development. The author suggests historians should acknowledge contradictory interpretations and work toward reconciliation and synthesis, where it is possible and, where not, toward a clear explication of the basis for remaining differences. The author also encourages historians to seek multidisciplinary research opportunities that will help bring insights about historical context to policy deliberations.

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