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Humanities Center Fellow Tore Olsson Tackles US-Mexico Agrarian History in New Book

Humanities Center Fellow Tore Olsson Tackles US-Mexico Agrarian History in New Book

Tore Olsson, assistant professor in the Department of History, has published a new book that dismantles artificial boundaries between American and Latin American history.

Olsson’s book Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton University Press, 2017) tells the story of how national campaigns for agrarian justice and agricultural productivity in the 1930s and 1940s were conducted in dialogue with one another, as reformers came to exchange plans and strategies across the border. Agrarian Crossings is an innovative history of the ways US-Mexico reformers affected policy, moved people, and literally reshaped the landscape we know today.

Because the UT Humanities Center requires all faculty fellowship applicants to apply for a national grant as part of its application process, Olsson sought outside funding and won a coveted fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete the book.

“I could never have finished this book without the help of the University of Tennessee’s Humanities Center,” Olsson says. “The UTHC faculty fellowship gave me writing time, while the Center’s weekly luncheons pushed me to explain my work to scholars outside of my field and provided me with invaluable feedback from the other resident scholars.”

Olsson’s book is poised to make an important contribution to studies of the US South and the history of US-Mexican relations. Bringing the tumultuous Great Depression years to life, Agrarian Crossings describes how Roosevelt’s New Deal drew on Mexican revolutionary agrarianism to shape its program for the rural South. It looks at how the US South served as the domestic laboratory for the Rockefeller Foundation’s “green revolution” in Mexico—which would become the most important Third World development campaign of the 20th century.

The book also tells how the Mexican government attempted to replicate the hydraulic development of the Tennessee Valley Authority after World War II.  

Ernest Freeberg, head of the Department of History, noted that in order to complete a major research project like Professor Olsson’s, scholars need time, space, and the support of an engaged audience to share their work.

“The UT Humanities Center fellowships provide all that,” Freeberg says. “This book is only the latest example of how valuable this resource is for our many accomplished scholars in the humanities.”

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