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Larding the Lean Earth

Larding the Lean Earth

Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America

Steven Stoll

Hill and Wang


A major history of early Americans' ideas about conservation

Fifty years after the American Revolution, the yeoman farmers who made up a large part of the new country's voters faced a crisis. The very soil of American farms seemed to be failing, and agricultural prosperity, upon which the Republic was founded, was threatened. Steven Stoll's passionate and brilliantly argued book explores the tempestuous debates that erupted between "improvers," who believed in practices that sustained and bettered the soil of existing farms, and "emigrants," who thought it was wiser and more "American" to move westward as the soil gave out. Stoll examines the dozens of journals, from New York to Virginia, that gave voice to the improvers' cause. He also focuses especially on two groups of farmers, in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. He analyzes the similarities and differences in their farming habits in order to illustrate larger regional concerns about the "new husbandry" in free and slave states.

Farming has always been the human activity that most disrupts nature, for good or ill. The decisions these early Americans made about how to farm not only expressed their political and social faith, but also influenced American attitudes about the environment for decades to come. Larding the Lean Earth is a signal work of environmental history and an original contribution to the study of antebellum America.

Lukas Prize Project - Finalist

Larding the Lean Earth

Let us boldly face the fact. Our country is nearly ruined.
--John Taylor (1819)

The times are changed; the face of the country is changed; the quality of the soil has changed; and...

Praise for Larding the Lean Earth

“Steven Stoll's brilliantly original Larding the Lean Earth unearths hidden layers of meaning behind American antebellum farm practices and the westward movement. This thoughtful and far-reaching work traces the origins of today's ecological crisis to the failure of the antebellum ethic of 'improvement.' Evocative and provocative, written with verve and passion and with new insights on every page, this is a book that every nineteenth-century historian will want to read.” —Daniel Feller, University of New Mexico

“Nineteenth-century Americans were overwhelmingly rural, agrarian, and westwardly mobile. No wonder, then, that ordinary folks and the profoundest minds were preoccupied with dirt -- soils' quality, conservation, abandonment -- for civilization was, after all, founded upon thriving, stable agriculture. Now we have at last a thorough and imaginative history of American soil that is scientifically and agronomically astute, politically contexturalized, and often poetic of expression.” —Jack Temple Kirby, Miami University


Reviews from Goodreads

Steven Stoll

Steven Stoll, an assistant professor of history at Yale University, is the author of The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

image of Steven Stollo
Tom Stoelker

Hill and Wang

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