tags: Top Young Historians
Shane Hamilton, 32
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia, 2005-Present
Area of Research: 20th-century U.S. sociopolitical, history of technology, history of agriculture and rural life, and history of capitalism.
Education: Ph.D. in History and Social Studies of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005.
Major Publications: Shane Hamilton is the author of Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy (Princeton University Press, 2008). He has published articles and reviews in journals including Agricultural History, Business History Review, Enterprise & Society, Reviews in American History, and Technology and Culture. His article, "Cold Capitalism: The Political Ecology of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice," which appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Agricultural History, won the 2003 Edward E. Everetts Award from the Agricultural History Society. He is currently working on a second book project tentatively titled "Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century." Part of the research for this project will appear in spring 2009 as "Supermarket USA Confronts State Socialism: Airlifting the Technopolitics of Industrial Food Distribution into Cold War Yugoslavia," in Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users, edited by Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann (MIT Press). Awards: Hamilton is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including, among others:
National Science Foundation Scholar's Award, "Supermarket USA: Food, Technology, and Power in the American Century" Award No. 0646662, 2007;
National Endowment for the Humanities, University of Georgia Nominee for Summer Stipend, 2007;
Gilbert C. Fite Award for Best Dissertation in Agricultural History, Agricultural History Society, 2006;
Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference, 2006;
University of Georgia Alumni Research Foundation, Junior Faculty Research Grant in the Arts and Humanities, 2006;
Miller Center of Public Affairs, Charlottesville, VA, Fellow in History, Public Policy, and American Politics, 2004-2005;
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC, Predoctoral Fellowship, 2003-2004;
Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Cambridge, MA, Graduate Fellowship, 2003-2004;
National Science Foundation, Dissertation Improvement Grant SES-0322268, 2003-2004;
Edward E. Everetts Award for Best Graduate Essay, Agricultural History Society, 2003;
Siegel Prize for Best Essay on Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sawyer Fellowship for "Modern Times/Rural Places," 2001-2002;
National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mention, 2000.
Hamilton has been featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "Georgia Weekly," SIRIUS Radio Network's "Freewheelin'," and WABC-AM's "John Batchelor Show." He will also appear in a documentary film by Nicholas Robespierre, Running Heavy, when that film finally makes its way into art-house cinemas. He also writes op-ed pieces for, among other outlets, the History News Network.
While pursuing a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000s I formed a band, The Atomic Harvesters, which we declared to be "Boston's Sexiest Lounge-Country Band." Merging the instrumentation of 1950s-60s urban jazz with the raw simplicity of rural country music from the same period, the Atomic Harvesters drew on diverse musical inspirations, ranging from Hank Williams, Sr. to Billie Holiday to the Modern Jazz Quartet and Merle Haggard. The intellectual inspiration for the band name and concept, however, drew directly on a passage in James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State.
On page 272, Scott refers to Davis Meltzer's artistic rendering of the "farm of the future" in the February 1970 issue of National Geographic magazine. In the image, two men operate a semi-autonomous farm of enormous scale from a glass-topped dome equipped with a supercomputer. Beef cattle are arrayed in what seems to be a "cattle condo," architecturally not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the Guggenheim Museum, except that cattle munching on antibiotic-laced feedstuffs fill the places of tourists and art critics. The farmer seated at the supercomputer operates an atomic-powered harvester, processing a grain field of near-infinite size into the foodstuffs of a consumer-driven economy. Meltzer's image channels modernist Charles Scheeler's paintings, in which individual workers are dwarfed by the machines that surround them in techno-pastoralist landscapes. Meltzer's imagery borders on the surreal, yet evokes a very realistic world in which the Jeffersonian vision of independent farmers working the land with simple tools has been subsumed by the technocracy of late-twentieth-century capitalism.
Meltzer's image provided the inspiration for my band's name, as well as the title of one of our instrumentals, "Cattle Condo." James Scott's critique of high modernist agriculture, meanwhile, laid a cornerstone for my ongoing intellectual interest in the technology, political economy, social realities, and political culture of rural Americans living in a world of industrial agriculture, hypercapitalist consumerism, and profound antistatism-a world that I described in my first book, Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy.
Meltzer's 1970 imagining of the "farm of the future" and Jim Scott's critique of high modernism focused on the vast material, political, and ideological gulfs separating urbanites from rural residents in the modern era. I sought in Trucking Country, by contrast, to show how the wrenching transformations of rural life in the mid- twentieth century were deeply intertwined with broader transformations in U.S. politics, economic realities, cultural beliefs, and social experiences. By thus contextualizing the historical experiences of rural Americans- even those country-music-lovin' neopopulist truckers who self-identified as members of Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority"-I demonstrated how rural workers helped to construct, from the 1930s through the 1970s, the economic realities and ideologies of neoliberalism that permeated the entire nation by the 1980s. These rural independent truckers, working in a world of industrial agribusiness, suburban supermarkets, and high modernist agricultural policymakers, found themselves with few choices other than to accept a "Wal-Mart economy"-decades before Wal-Mart became one of the world's largest and most powerful corporations.
I no longer have time to play much guitar, and the members of the Atomic Harvesters have spread to the four corners of the world. My fascination with the "farm of the future" and the rural people of the past, however, continues to drive my research-particularly as I work on my second book, "Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the American Century." There are far more country music songs about trucks than there are about supermarkets, so I unfortunately will not be integrating my musical interests and my historical research as tightly as I did in my first book. Unless, of course, I revive the Atomic Harvesters and write a couple of lounge-country tunes about U.S. supermarkets being airlifted into Yugoslavia, Italy, and Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s. If anyone knows of a rhyme for "Yugoslavia," I'm all ears.
By Shane Hamilton
About Shane Hamilton
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