Haas Dissertation Fellow
- E-mail: ibeamish-at-chemheritage-dot-org
- Phone: 215.873.8242
- Fax: 215.629.5242
Ian Beamish is currently completing his dissertation, “Saving the South: Printing Agricultural Improvement in the American South, 1820–1870,” in the history department at Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on slave labor on cotton plantations, the agricultural improvement movement in the plantation South, and the intellectual world of Southern planters in the antebellum period. His work seeks to bring the less-studied spheres of Southern agricultural knowledge and business practices into conversations about the intellectual development of the South within the United States and the role of slavery in the rise of capitalism within the United States.
My dissertation, “Saving the South: Printing Agricultural Improvement in the American South, 1820–1870,” examines how the increasing presence of print reorganized the plantation South, linking it more closely to national and international economies and markets; helped rationalize and industrialize plantation agriculture; and altered the daily working lives of slaves. I do this through a study of cotton plantations, the agricultural press, and slave labor in South Carolina and Mississippi. I explore the ways that elites used agricultural reform to articulate their goals for and anxieties about the future of their plantation society, as well as the unexpected legacy of reform on the plantation.
My work bridges a common gap between the rhetoric and intellectual history of Southern planter elites and the daily life on the plantations that they owned, by providing a direct link between the print discourses of improvement and the realities seen on the pages of plantation work logs. I look to connect the transnational scientific networks of planters to changes in the lives of slaves throughout the antebellum South. I show how a careful examination of the contradictions between print and practice reveals the priorities of Southern elites in seeking to shape and control Southern plantation societies and economies. These men eagerly sought out new and modern ideas to maximize production and allow them to enter transnational scientific communities and knowledge networks to bolster their reputation outside of the South. In doing so, they engaged with emerging American ideas of industrialization, rational production, and professionalization, while never fully committing to any of them, as they worried about their reception within the South.