Olsson, Tore Carl
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In the first half of the twentieth century, agrarian reformers in the American South and Mexico came to imagine themselves as confronting a shared problem. Diagnosing rural poverty, uneven land tenure, export-oriented monoculture, racialized labor regimes, and soil exploitation as the common consequences of the plantation system, they fostered a transnational dialogue over how to overcome that bitter legacy. Of the many voices in that conversation, particularly important was that of the Rockefeller philanthropies, who began their career in social uplift by targeting the poverty of the U.S. Cotton Belt in the Progressive Era. When they founded their renowned Mexican Agriculture Program of the early 1940s – a program that would ultimately provide the blueprint for the Green Revolution, or the Cold War project of teaching American-style scientific agriculture to Third World farmers – it was explicitly modeled on their earlier work in the American South, a region that Rockefeller experts used as a domestic laboratory for rural reform. While of great significance, the Rockefeller philanthropies were not the sole voice in the U.S.-Mexican agrarian dialogue, and the directionality of intellectual influence did not only flow southward. Especially during the radical 1930s, New Deal reformers worried about U.S. southern rural poverty looked to the Mexican Revolution’s evolving policy of land reform for inspiration, drawing upon it to draft similar programs for the Cotton Belt. Ultimately, the dissertation reveals that the project of rural “development” was decidedly diverse at mid-century, and was forged in a transnational crucible. Likewise, it demonstrates that integrating the history of the American South with that of Latin America and the Caribbean can get us beyond the historiographical dichotomy that separates U.S. and Latin American history in the twentieth century.