Project Overview

A Social and Environmental History of Agrichemicals

Faculty Sponsor

Heather Roller (




This project focuses on how people in rural America have experienced and perceived the role of agrichemicals in their lives and landscapes, from the 1970s to the present. The central research questions are as follows: How have farmers made decisions about agrichemical use (or non-use) over time, and how have they justified or rationalized those decisions? How do people living in proximity to agriculture think about their ecological roots, and to what extent do they notice transformations in the local environment that may be connected with agrichemical use? How have different kinds of people in agricultural communities reckoned (or not) with agrichemical toxicity? Finally, how have individuals and communities tried to care for contaminated ecosystems—including ones they may have participated in degrading—and why are these historical and present-day efforts important? Although the focus of the project is on the US, we will look at parallel cases in other countries where agrichemical use is embedded in rural life, such as Brazil.
The research revolves around a series of oral history interviews with conventional farmers, organic farmers, and people living adjacent to agricultural fields. We will continue reflecting on interviews that were conducted last summer and will also (hopefully) conduct new ones in both Central New York and Iowa. The interviews in Iowa will likely be done during a two-week trip in July, which may also afford an opportunity to visit archives in Des Moines and Iowa City.
Throughout the summer, we will excavate primary materials relevant to this topic, which may include state investigations of pesticide misuse; internal documents of corporations involved in agrichemical production; legal cases; documents produced by environmental groups; and government regulatory documents.

Student Qualifications

Experience identifying relevant scholarly literature, especially in the fields of Environmental Studies, History, or Anthropology; ability to concisely summarize academic articles and books; facility with reading and interpreting historical documents from the 1970s onward; ability to navigate (digital) archives; ability to synthesize different kinds of sources; familiarity with creating spreadsheets in Excel. Willingness to travel for field research and to conduct oral history interviews in partnership with faculty member.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 11/03/2022 and close on 02/03/2023

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (