The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress
An Environmental History
By Cameron Muir
Routledge – 2014 – 230 pages
Food and the global agricultural system has become one of the defining public concerns of the twenty-first century. Ecological disorder and inequity is at the heart of our food system. This thoughtful and confronting book tells the story of how the development of modern agriculture promised ecological and social stability but instead descended into dysfunction. Contributing to knowledge in environmental, cultural and agricultural histories, it explores how people have tried to live in the aftermath of ‘ecological imperialism’.
The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress: An environmental history journeys to the dry inland plains of Australia where European ideas and agricultural technologies clashed with a volatile and taunting country that resisted attempts to subdue and transform it for the supply of global markets. Its wide-ranging narrative puts gritty local detail in its global context to tell the story of how cultural anxieties about civilisation, population, and race, shaped agriculture in the twentieth century. It ranges from isolated experiment farms to nutrition science at the League of Nations, from local landholders to high profile moral crusaders, including an Australian apricot grower who met Franklin D. Roosevelt and almost fed the world.
This book will be useful to undergraduates and postgraduates on courses examining international comparisons of nineteenth and twentieth century agriculture, and courses studying colonial development and settler societies. It will also appeal to food concerned general readers.
In his gripping account of the failures of European agriculture on the western plains of New South Wales, Cameron Muir challenges our assumptions about the social and environmental outcomes of agricultural progress. How can global food security be maintained, given that modern farming technologies can ‘break’ places? Muir’s perceptive and fresh analysis alerts us to why the lessons of the past are so crucial for the future management of our environments.
–Kate Darian-Smith, University of Melbourne, Australia
Cameron Muir has produced a brilliant, far-reaching book that combines environmental and agricultural approaches to urgent questions about food politics and land management. This is a terrific work of historically textured, geographically immersed story-telling that also has a strong conceptual payoff in debunking resilient myths about what it would take to feed the world. Muir's conclusions will reverberate across disciplines and national borders.
–Rob Nixon, University of Wisconsin, USA
Introduction Foreword by Iain McCalman and Libby Robin 1. Hooves 2. Bores 3. Scrub 4. Wheat 5. Dust 6. Reeds 7. Cotton Conclusion
Cameron Muir is Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia. In 2013-14, he was Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, and a visiting scholar at The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE),part of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, USA.