Synopses & Reviews
The author describes the adoption of the mule as the major agricultural resource in the American South and its later displacement by the mechanical tractor. After describing the surprising slowness of southern farmers to realize the superiority of the mule over the horse for agricultural labor, Ellenberg strives to capture the symbiosis that emerged between animal and man to illuminate why and how the mule became a standard feature in Southern folk culture. Having been slow to adopt the mule, southern farmers were then reluctant to set it aside in favor of the tractor. Ellenberg describes the transformation as the tractor gradually displaced the mule and the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in this process. The work not only becomes a survey of the development of southern agriculture as revealed through an examination of this premier work animal but also follows the emergence of the animal as a cultural icon, as it figures in southern literature, folklore, and music.
“George Ellenberg has written an excellent study of the adaption and transformation of southern agriculture from the days of mule power to tractor power. . . . This is more than a study of economic transformation; it is also one of social and cultural change.”—R. Douglas Hurt, author of The Rural South Since World War II
“In examining the figurative and literal power of the draft mule within the historical narrative of the South from 1860 forward, the author demonstrates that the very ubiquity of the mule indeed camouflaged its importance to the region. . . . Artfully crafted and well written, Mule South to Tractor South calls upon a range of sources in providing a distinct contribution to the field of southern and agriculture history.” —North Carolina Historical Review
“His insightful accounts of what working with mules was really like gives readers an appreciation of both the backbreaking labor that defined southern agriculture for generations and the unique relationship between man and beast that the arrangement required.”—Journal of Mississippi History
About the Author
George B. Ellenberg is Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of History at the University of West Florida.