Ann K. Ferrell
Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century
University of Kentucky Press 2013
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in FolkloreNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society May 30, 2018 Rachel Hopkin
Ann K. Ferrell is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Folk Studies program at Western Kentucky University, and also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of American Folklore. Her first book, Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century (University of Kentucky Press, 2013) is the result of multiple research methodologies including extensive ethnographic fieldwork, archival investigation, and rhetorical analysis.
The book’s introduction includes a history of tobacco production in the United States along with a summary of changes in attitudes towards the product over time – the most significant shift coming in the wake of the 1964 Surgeon General’s report confirming its detrimental health effects. Thereafter, the book is divided into three parts. Part One offers a detailed description of the work involved in raising the eponymous crop as well as how that process has changed over time. Part Two, titled “The Shifting Meanings of Tobacco,” is based upon Ferrell’s study of the representation of tobacco – or its non-representation – in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture newsletters from the 1940s up until the time of her fieldwork (c. 2007); here Ferrell shows how the state’s response to tobacco’s fluctuating fortunes played out in rhetorical decisions made manifest on the page. For example, recent depictions of tobacco farming suggest it has been relegated to part of Kentucky’s heritage rather than its present, despite the state still being home to thousands of tobacco farms. In the third part of the book, Ferrell combines her ethnographic research with her study of rhetoric to consider what it means to be a tobacco farmer in Kentucky in the 21st century; whereas claiming such an identity in the past might well engender pride and respect, it has become stigmatized and therefore more likely to provoke disdain at best. Partly as a result, recent decades have seen the development of the complex concept of tobacco nostalgia, characteristics of which include mourning the “golden age of the tobacco man”. In addition, Ferrell investigates why “just growing something else” is by no means as simple an endeavor as it sounds.
Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century has been widely-acclaimed. For example, in his review for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Jeffery A. Duvall described Ferrell’s monograph as “an illuminating account of how burley tobacco, once a proud symbol of the economic strength and cultural heritage of the commonwealth, has in recent years been scrubbed from the consciousness and public image of Kentucky, and the impact this has had upon tobacco farmers in the state.” In addition, Burley received the 2014 Wayland D. Hand Award (awarded by the American Folklore Society to the best book to combine historical and folkloristic methods and materials).
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.