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The American Farmer in the Eighteenth CenturyA Social and Cultural History$
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Richard Lyman Bushman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780300226737

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300226737.001.0001

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A Note on Sources

A Note on Sources

How Documents Think

(p.23) 2. A Note on Sources
The American Farmer in the Eighteenth Century

Richard Lyman Bushman

Yale University Press

Beyond the basic farm idea, we can catch a glimpse of the farm mentality by looking closely at the documentary sources farming created: court records, tax lists, account books, and so on. Each one formed a particular world in which farmers led part of their lives. The deed created a space formed of artificial lines imposed on the natural world. The purpose of the deed was to move these chunks of space between the largely male owners, the only significant actors in this world. The promissory note created a period of obligation. During the specified time, the borrower was tied to the lender in a relationship of mutual trust. All farmers were festooned with obligations linking him to other lenders and borrowers. The estate auction revealed the farmer amidst his small possession, forever changing his assemblage of tools, furniture, animals, and land. The will exhibits the farmer ordering the future, willing what the small society of his family will look like after he is gone. Tax lists can be interpreted, after Foucault, as the state exercising discipline by naming every person and exacting a tax. They also reveal the eminence of the male head of the household and the obscurity of women, children, and servants. Finally, the lists ranked farmers by their productivity and ownership, a ranking every farmer could see by glancing at his neighbors’ properties compared to his own.

Keywords:   Documents, Space, Possessions, Will, Foucault

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