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Many parts of history would be easily forgotten if we did not have those who are committed to recording it.
“When I started, much of the historical information wasn’t available.” recalls Purdue professor Fred Whitford.
Now, after authoring more than 250 research, extension, and regulatory publications, delivering over 5,800 presentations to a wide array of audiences, and writing several books about the history of Indiana agriculture, Whitford is responsible for a great deal of what is known about the history of agriculture and extension in Indiana.
Whitford’s books include Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family: A Photo History of Indiana’s Early County Extension Agents; Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge: The Words and Works of Indiana’s Pioneer County Extension Agents; For the Good of the Farmer: A Biography of John Harrison Skinner, Dean of Purdue Agriculture; The Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture: The Biography of William Carroll Latta; and The Queen of American Agriculture: A Biography of Virginia Claypool Meredith. These books study the history of agriculture and extension agents at Purdue and in Indiana, often through concentrating on important figures throughout our history. (Find a flyer for the series of books here.)
John Calvin Allen, professionally known as J.C., is one of those figures. He worked as a photographer for Purdue University from 1909-1952, and operated his own photography business until his death in 1976.Allen’s photos are the source for Whitford’s upcoming book Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J. C. Allen (September 2019), co-authored by Neal Harmeyer an archivist at the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. The book uses Allen’s photographs, which were taken on glass slides, to get a unique look at Indiana’s agricultural history.
“People love old pictures,” says Whitford, “it brings people back.”
This volume contains over 900 images, most never-before-seen, of men, women, and children working on the farm, which remain powerful reminders of life in rural America at the turn of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the collection of photographs is the importance of the the time period they cover. They act as a historical account of a major transitional period for agriculture. “He told the story of change” says Whitford, he explains that it was a time when tractors replaced horses, and superior crops and animals were being introduced.
Why research the history of agriculture and extension in Indiana in such an expansive way? Whitford believes that the past repeats itself, and that learning from it will always have value.
“We take so many things for granted, and all of these things we take for granted had to start somewhere.” says Whitford.
Just as important, it’s a reminder of culture and mission.
“It shows what the culture of extension is, we’ve always been here to help.” says Whitford. “We are here to serve growers.”
Memories of Life on the Farm: Through the Lens of Pioneer Photographer J.C. Allen will be available in September 2019. Get 30% off when you order directly from the Purdue University Press website and enter the code “PURDUE30” at checkout.