Abstract

This article suggests that the idea of "modernization," the uni-linear transition from peasantry to commercial agriculture, has shaped much of the writing of rural immigrant communities during the twentieth century. It also suggests that the history of immigrant and ethnic farm communities has begun to take a different tack during the last decade. This change reflects trends in the broader historiography of settlement society, including a shift from social history to cultural history. Modernity is no longer seen as an unrelenting force, natural and dominant in character. Rather postmodernity’s concern with fragmentation and asymmetry, and the linguistic turn with its fixation on cultural invention and created mythology, seemed evident. Regional, national, and international-based studies alike reflect this new research agenda, and this article highlights seven books in particular. Three, focusing on settler society and rural culture in regional, national, and transnational variations, describe modernity in particular; they see the very idea of change, once seen as inevitable and inexorable, as constructed, invented, and contrived. Three others are local studies of specific ethnic rural groups in which the immigrant or ethnic farm community stands at a cross current to a commercializing countryside, contesting and subverting the very intentions of the agents of the market economy and state interests. The final book is the author’s own recent work in comparative history, Diaspora in the Countryside: Two Mennonite Communities and Mid-Twentieth Century Rural Disjuncture. The two central words "diaspora" and "disjuncture" suggests that these communities, one located in Canada and the other in the United States, responded to economic changes through a diversity of lifeworlds, including farm commercialization, urbanization, and a conservative recreation of an old order agraria. These Mennonites created a set of contradictory mythologies and master narratives that sought to bring teleological sense, social order, and meaning to inchoate and fragmented cultures. The seven books thus acknowledge quotidian complexity, ethnic variation, and national and regional difference. They are representative of what appears to be a wider trend in the academy of North American rural history.

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Notes

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