The Great Meadow Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord Brian Donahue

Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Publication date:
08 Jun 2007
344 pages: 254 x 177 x 19mm
40 b&w illustrations, 12 colour maps

The farmers of colonial New England have been widely accused of farming extensively, neglecting manure, wearing out their land, and moving on. But did they? And if so, when and why? Brian Donahue offers an innovative, accessible, and authoritative history of the early farming practices of Concord, Massachusetts, and challenges the long-standing notion that colonial husbandry degraded the land. In fact, he argues, the Concord community of farmers achieved a remarkably successful and sustainable system of local production. Donahue describes in precise detail - using among other tools an innovative historical geographical information system (GIS) method - how land was settled and how mixed husbandry was developed in Concord. By reconstructing several farm neighbourhoods and following them through many generations, he reveals the care with which farmers managed the land, soil, and water. He concludes that ecological degradation came to Concord only later, when nineteenth-century economic and social forces undercut the environmental balance that earlier colonial farmers had nurtured. It is: selected by "Choice" Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2005; winner of the 2004 George Perkins Marsh Prize sponsored by the American Society for Environmental History; winner of the 2005 Theodore Saloutos Book Award sponsored by the Agricultural History Society; winner of the New England Historical Association's best 2004 book (in any field) by a New England scholar.

Brian Donahue is associate professor of American environmental studies on the Jack Meyerhoff Foundation, Brandeis University. He has been active since 1975 in the land conservation and sustainable farming and forestry movements, and he is an active farmer in Weston, Massachusetts, where he serves on several town boards and organizations devoted to land protection.

"I used The Great Meadow in my graduate seminar in American Environmental History last winter, and it was a great success. I think the book appealed to the students because it is so grounded in the real world of living on the land in colonial New England, and also because it reveals the previously ignored land wisdom of colonial farmers. This is a good teaching book for both graduate students and upper-level history majors."-Mart Stewart, Western Washington University