Farm, Field and Fireside

Apr 1, 2010

The University of Illinois Library houses one of the world’s premier collections of agricultural newspapers and now provides digital access to this historically significant material.  Farm, Field and Fireside, a repository of digitized farm newspapers, offers digital facsimiles of farm newspapers published in the U.S., mainly within the Midwest.   

There is no charge to use the repository located at www.library.illinois.edu/dnc/fff/.  Anyone with access to the Internet can browse the newspapers by date or search by keyword across articles, advertisements, and photo captions.  In addition, individual articles can be printed, downloaded, or e-mailed. 

Farm, Field and Fireside is a project of the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library at Illinois.  It began with a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services via the Illinois State Library.  Additional support came from the Clifford Family Endowment, Lancaster Farming, Inc., the Minnesota Historical Society, Pennsylvania State University, the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Norman Jean Johnston Estate, and the University of Illinois Library.  To date, the repository contains more than 230,000 pages of farm newspapers, with another 70,000 pages in the works.  More titles will be added to the repository as funding becomes available.

Together with the introduction of rural mail delivery, the telephone, and the automobile, farm newspapers have played a key role in the modernization of rural America.  Distinct from the general small-town or rural press, farm weeklies were aimed at a local, regional, or national audience of farmers and their families, with the goal of disseminating information and dispensing advice.  

Farm newspapers were instrumental in the formation of rural public opinion and in connecting farmers to broader social and economic currents in American life.  More than 75% of Midwestern farmers subscribed to one or more agricultural papers in 1913.  In a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers overwhelmingly cited agricultural newspapers as the most helpful source of information in their farming--second only to experience.  Yet until now, this rich source material remained largely hidden from scholars.  Digitization offers keyword access to the contents of the newspapers, and this essential piece of our national heritage is now widely accessible for the first time.

“The collection is valuable not only for students and scholars researching the history of agriculture or agricultural economics, communications and technology, but also for historians of education, rural sociologists, environmental historians, and especially social and cultural historians.  There is a wealth of material on American popular culture in the farm weeklies, including a large body of early romance fiction written for farm wives,” said Mary Stuart, history, philosophy and newspaper librarian and professor of library administration.  “It’s very exciting to be able to bring this previously hidden material to light. We believe this project builds on the land-grant tradition of the University.”

To highlight some of the “unexpected” content in the farm weeklies, the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library created separate subject guides for specialized topics addressed by the farm newspapers, such as rural school reform, Indian lands, health and hygiene, “women’s” fiction, and immigrant labor.  These guides are available online at http://uiuc.libguides.com/fff/.

Newspaper titles currently available:

-Berkshire World and Cornbelt Stockman (1910-1926)
-Better Farming (1913-1925)
-Farmers' Review (1879-1918)
-Farmer’s Voice (1898-1913)
-Farmer's Wife (1906-1939)
-Farm, Field and Fireside (1884-1906)
-Farm, Field and Stockman (1885-1887)
-Farm Home (1899-1920)
-Farm Press (1906-1913)
-Illinois Farmer (1856-1864)
-Lancaster Farming (1955-1981)
-Prairie Farmer (1841-1923)

In preparation:

-Banker Farmer (1913-1927)
-Chicago Packer (1907-1946)
-Chicago Livestock World (1902-1917)
-Western Rural / Western Rural and American Stockman / National Rural (1868-1900)

The Farm, Field and Fireside repository is accessible at www.library.illinois.edu/dnc/fff/.  The History, Philosophy & Newspaper Library is located at www.library.illinois.edu/hpnl/.

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