July 17, 2007

Adams invited to deliver paper in Australia

by Andrea Hahn


CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale Professor Jane Adams is half a world away this week, invited to bring her perspective on the transformation of rural America to a discussion of changes in rural Australia.

Adams, who holds a joint appointment in the departments of anthropology and history, is one of eight scholars participating in a seminar-style conference hosted by the School for Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University in southeast Australia. Adams, the only scholar from the United States delivering a paper, will discuss changes in American agriculture, using a post-World War II government land-use project in the Mississippi Delta as an example.

The two-day conference, called, "Rural Futures in Developed Countries: Australia, America, Europe," begins Friday, July 20. Adams is one of several scholars from the conference also planning to attend a public workshop on July 23 focusing on local rural values and conflicts between old traditions and new trends, particularly as changes in land ownership have impacted Aborigines and their position within the Australian socio-economic structure.

"I feel very honored to be the sole invitee from the United States," Adams said, noting her expenses-included invitation was based on her third book, "Fighting for the Farm: Rural America Transformed," a collection of scholarly essays exploring the political dimensions of North American agriculture, which Adams edited.

Francesca Merlan, an ANU anthropology professor and chair of the conference, said the changes occurring in Australian farmlands are the same as those occurring in other Western countries. She noted the main focus of the conference is "the drought (in Australia), changing land use patterns, the values which underpin farming policy and its popular support, and attempts to regulate and manage land use."

In her paper, Adams follows a Depression-era program implemented through the Farm Security Administration that subdivided failed cotton plantations and cutover timberland into 40- to 60-acre plots for poor white and black sharecroppers. The program yielded some unexpected results. It was intended "to break the cotton mono-crop style, which is very fragile economically, as well as being hard on the land," Adams wrote in a synopsis of the paper. However, in an ironic meeting of the minds, both socialist factions and large commercial planters agreed that small farms were obsolete. The trend was for consolidation – along racial lines. Some of the cooperative farms became "significant centers of civil rights mobilization," Adams wrote, noting that white-owned farms from this program "were not drawn into the white racist resistance."

"Culturally, the United States and Australia both derive much of their heritage from the British Isles, so we share even more with them than we might with, say, Russians or Taiwanese," Adams said.

The conference organizers plan to publish the papers from the conference in a book format, Adams said, adding that she was very pleased to represent SIUC.

For more information about the conference, contact Francesca Merlan at Francesca.Merlan@anu.edu.au. For more information about Jane Adams' book, log on to www.upennpress and search by author name.