I had a great time last month at the symposium on the history and future of hemp in Kentucky at the Henry Clay estate, Ashland. I compiled a few general thoughts and embedded a video of the talk I gave at Henry Clay Hemp Symposium talk. Thanks again to the Kentucky Hempsters for having me!
Personal connections can make history feel so immediate. My family history in the Bluegrass agricultural landscape is a continual source of inspiration for my work. I always feel motivated to keep writing by the juxtaposition of the relative ease of even the most frustrating day working on the dissertation when compared with the difficult physical labor that generations of Kentuckians poured (pour) into the land.
For example, the above image of some of my great-grandfather’s IRS documentation during his spell as a hemp producer during World War II is interesting in its own right, but vastly more so since I understand how much physical work went into it and the long history of how the “marihuana” fit into the regional agricultural ecosystem.
This word cloud pretty well summarizes the talk I’m giving at Henry Clay’s Hemp Symposium later today at the Ashland estate. I’ll be discussing the ways in which hemp and Clay helped bind the Bluegrass to the Atlantic economy. The other three images demonstrate some of the major points of the talk. The photo of the man working the hemp brake probably conveys a better idea of how it worked than my oral description and the hemp bagging wrapped around the bales of cotton on the dock awaiting export helps to visualize the connection between the two crops. All three come from the Ronald Morgan postcard collection at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.
One of the fun things about my position at the Historical Society is getting to work on projects across the institution. Most of my time is spent on the Register, selecting books, recruiting reviewers, copyediting and querying articles, but I also get to work with collections occasionally. For example, I recently read the “Licking River Navigation Journals” from 1818 and wrote a descriptive summary for Kentucky Ancestors. The journals really show how difficult river transportation could be prior to formal surveys and improvements. They also show how vital waterpower was to life in early Kentucky as virtually every page includes a description of this mill or that dam and the uses to which they were put. A really cool primary. I like my job.
From the Licking River Navigation Journals, 1818, SC 403 at the Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky.
I’ve had a couple of great days in Transylvania University’s Special Collections in the last week. Really interesting sources on Kentucky hemp, especially as rope, twine and bagging for bailing cotton. Lots on the broader agricultural landscape too, including on the role of Kentucky produce in the War of 1812. But my current favorite character has to be Dorcas Dodge of Winchester who managed a ropewalk and loved to get into the nuts and bolts of the commercial side of the hemp industry. I can’t wait to incorporate her into the dissertation.
Thanks to Susan Brown and the rest of the staff at the Transy library for their help and suggestions.
LEO Weekly of Louisville has an Earth Day article on hemp in Kentucky that does a really nice job of balancing diverse perspectives on an embattled crop. Author Ethan Smith rounds up a lot of interesting stakeholders and experts on the newly-revitalized commodity, most surprising is to find myself among them. Check it out: Hemp: Not Pot, Not A Miracle Crop.
I’m wrapping up my spring conference slate this weekend at Samford in Birmingham, Alabama for the 2016 meeting of the Southern Forum on Agricultural, Rural and Environmental history. It’s a great small event with no concurrent sessions, which saves me from any painful decisions. It also means all attendees will be on hand for my presentation: “Jealousy on the Subject of the Mississippi”: Kentucky Agriculture and Market Access: 1784-1815.
The above word cloud gives a pretty accurate idea of the themes and direction of the essay. Contact me if you are interested but unable to attend.