Friday, May 23, 2014

Interview with Jeff Bremer, pt. 2

Jeff Bremer’s A StoreAlmost in Sight: The Economic Transformation of Missouri from the LouisianaPurchase to the Civil War, comes out this month. Editor Catherine Cocks took a moment to talk with the author about his work.

Catherine Cocks: What role did women play in sustaining their households?

Jeff Bremer: Women played an incredibly important role on family farms. Their labor in their households consisted of juggling a vast number of crucial tasks, from child care to cooking, from caring for the family garden and harvesting and preserving many hundreds of pounds of vegetables to producing butter and cheese. They also sewed or mended the family’s clothes and worked in the fields when necessary. A household could not have survived without female labor.

CC: Of all the people whose letters, diaries, or memoirs you read for this book, is there one whose experience most struck or moved you? Could you share a quotation from that person with us?

JB: The experiences of one German immigrant, a man named Frederick Steines, stand out. He came to Missouri in the 1830s with his family and they bought a farm west of St. Louis.  Cholera killed his wife and children the year they arrived, and he quickly remarried, since, as I noted above, a household could not survive without female labor. He left a series of detailed letters behind, which I use throughout the book to help explain the lives of average people. In 1840, he wrote, “To make money is the only ambition of the typical American.  Money is the motive of his action; it is the axis around which his world turns.” This quotation gets at the heart of my book and at the interest of Missourians in taking part in the growing capitalist economy around them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hot off the Press: A STORE ALMOST IN SIGHT & Interview with Author, Jeff Bremer

The University of Iowa Press is proud to announce the release of our newest Iowa and the Midwest Experience title, A Store Almost in Sight: The Economic Transformation of Missouri from the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War, by Jeff Bremer! Editor Catherine Cocks took a moment to talk with the author about his work. Stop back on Friday to read the remainder of the interview.

Catherine Cocks: Why focus on the ways Missouri’s early American settlers made their livings, rather than, say, politics, religion, or other aspects of people’s lives?

Jeff Bremer: The political history of the nineteenth century has been pretty well documented, but the social history of settlers has not.  When historians can find a topic that is unexplored, such as the economic pursuits of people in antebellum Missouri, we pursue it.  This book details the daily lives of Missourians, looking to explain what they thought about the expanding market economy of the United States.  In answering the question “what did people in Missouri think about capitalism,” I discuss a lot about everyday life, which readers will find interesting.

CC: I suspect most of us think of the pioneers as hardy farm families living in isolated log cabins deep in the woods. Is that an accurate portrait of the Americans in Missouri between 1800 and 1860?

JB: It is a myth of American history that farm families lived isolated from each other. Most families depended on each for help with harvests and construction—tasks that were too big for a small number of people to manage.  And not everyone had enough tools or labor, or pasture land or wagons, to complete all their tasks. Historians have shown over the past thirty years or so that American farms were very dependent on each other.

CC: Where did the settlers come from—eastern cities or Europe or somewhere else? How diverse was the population?

JB: Missouri settlers mostly came from the upper South, including states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. But about ten percent of the state’s population was foreign-born, mostly German, by 1860.  Also, about ten percent of Missouri’s population was enslaved African Americans in that year. There was significant population from Northern states as well. 

"Jeff Bremer's study of antebellum Missouri's rural white farm families captures the daily rhythms of frontier life. This book is a comprehensive synthesis of rural life and economic development on the Missouri frontier."—William Foley, author, Wilderness Journey: The Life of William Clark

"Bremer's history of antebellum Missouri mobilizes a cast of thousands to illustrate the evolution of the market economy and the resulting empowerment of white settlers. A Store Almost in Sight reminds us that regardless of the decisions emanating from federal and state capitols, the actions of thousands of average Americans steered the course of history."—Craig Thompson Friend, author, Kentucke's Frontiers

Monday, May 19, 2014

Interview with Carl Kurtz, pt. 2

UI Press editor, Holly Carver, sat down with Carl Kurtz to ask him a few questions about the inspiration for his book and his life as a photographer. Check back Monday to read the conclusion of the interview!

HC: You sifted through some, what, five hundred photos to select the photos in this book. How did you make your decisions? 
CK: I tried to select things that seemed to best represent the season and time of year. 
HC: The subtitle of your book is “Discovering Where We Live.” What does this mean to you? 
CK: It means that we need to live in the present and be able to enjoy the world of nature every day, not just occasionally or on a vacation.

HC: After all these years of paying close attention to weekly images, what have you learned? 
CK: One continues to learn about the connectedness of all life forms and their importance in sustaining life. 
HC: I have a particular fondness for your photos of birds, followed by your panoramic landscapes. What do you most enjoy photographing? 
CK: Birds are always a challenge, but I enjoy the pursuit of everything in nature, since it nearly always reveals something new to you.
HC: I’ve been the grateful recipient of your photo essays for years. How can others sign up?

CK: I can add an e-mail address to my address book, or you can check, which is an archive of past weeks.