A New Historicist Analysis of Education and Female-Life Factors in the 1926 Indiana Prairie Farmer Magazine Column "John Turnipseed"
This research used a literary-theoretical approach to guide investigation of the once-popular column titled “John Turnipseed,” which was published for more than 60 years in the Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine. As the fictional author, Turnipseed entertained thousands of rural readers through his humorous first-person narration of interactions and adventures on and about his Indiana farm in the early twentieth century. The research focused specifically on the 51 Turnipseed columns published in the year 1926, a pivotal era in U.S. agriculture as well as American society. The literary theory of New Historicism was used to analyze two historical factors — education and lives of females — and to generate claims about the culture of 1920s rural America. The theory of New Historicism, based in disciplines of English and literature, has a primary goal of providing insight into the culture of an era through the analysis of a text while recognizing the significance of the critic’s era in the analysis. New Historicism asserts that all texts hold equal value for analysis and that the culture of the era is more influential than the author when analyzing a text. The current analysis generated three claims from the Turnipseed text: (1) In the 1920s, education was perceived as unnecessary compared to common sense; (2) too much education was perceived negatively; and (3) females were portrayed as stock characters commonly represented as nagging wives. The claims are used to draw inferences about the 1920s American rural subculture while keeping in mind that modern-day culture profoundly influences today’s critic. While relatively uncommon as an analytical approach in agricultural communication scholarship, literary theory can be used to demonstrate the importance of columns like John Turnipseed as sources of information about everyday life and culture in previous historical periods. Literary analyses can help readers rediscover text from bygone eras that may otherwise become a lost art in the twenty-first century. Because they offer an alternative to conventional social science methods, literary theoretical approaches such as New Historicism may also hold potential to diversify scholarship in agricultural communication and agricultural education.
Tucker, Purdue University.
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