Skip to content
Dr Olson Pictures

Tore Olsson

Assistant Professor

Biography

I am a historian of the twentieth-century United States in international context, with an emphasis on agrarian, political, environmental, and food history. My research explores the global dimensions of rural life; much of my work has engaged the US South and Latin America.

My first book, Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton University Press, 2017), seeks to dismantle the artificial boundaries that can divide American and Latin American history. It examines the 1930s and 1940s, when rural reformers in the United States and Mexico waged unprecedented campaigns to remake their countrysides in the name of agrarian justice and agricultural productivity. The book tells the story of how these campaigns were conducted in dialogue with one another as reformers in each nation came to swap models, plans, and strategies with their equivalents across the border. In particular, I explore three avenues of exchange: how Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal drew on Mexican revolutionary agrarianism to shape its program for the rural US South; how the South served as the domestic laboratory for the Rockefeller Foundation’s “green revolution” in Mexico; and how the Mexican government attempted to replicate the hydraulic development of the Tennessee Valley Authority after World War II. Rather than a comparative history, Agrarian Crossings is a history of comparisons and the ways that they affected policy, moved people, and reshaped the landscape.

I am currently working on a second book titled Nashville and the World: Country Music in the American Century. It will examine two converging trends after 1945: the dramatic expansion of the United States’ presence and power across our planet, and the explosive rise in popularity of a musical form idealizing rural life, agriculture, and yeoman independence. The book will investigate how US diplomats, corporations, and non-governmental organizations abroad relied upon country music and its performers to promote a particular definition of the United States as a nation rooted in rural values, even at a moment when the American countryside was hemorrhaging farmers at an unprecedented rate. It will likewise ponder the surprising popularity of US country music across various continents, highlighting the universal appeal of nostalgic paeans for country life at a moment when rapid urbanization defined much of the global human experience.

My research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, the Miller Center for Public Affairs, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and several others. My award-winning articles have appeared in The Journal of Southern History, Enterprise & Society, and Southern Cultures. I am the founder and director of the Tennessee Workshop in Food, Agriculture, and Society, which showcases cutting-edge scholarship on this topic across a wide range of disciplines.

 At the University of Tennessee, I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on food and agriculture, US foreign relations, the US South, and US and Latin American social and political history. I welcome graduate student applications in those fields.


Research Interests

Modern U.S., Transnational, Food and Agriculture, Rural, Environmental, Latin America


Education

Ph.D., University of Georgia, 2013

BA, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2004


Selected Publications

Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton University Press, 2017)

“Sharecroppers and Campesinos: The American South, Mexico, and the Transnational Politics of Land Reform in the Radical 1930s,” Journal of Southern History 81, no. 3 (August 2015), winner of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations’ Stuart L. Bernath Scholarly Article Prize and the Agricultural History Society’s Wayne Rasmussen Award

“Peeling Back the Layers: Vidalia Onions and the Making of a Global Agribusiness,” Enterprise & Society 13, no. 4 (December 2012), winner of the Business History Conference’s Mira Wilkins Prize

“Your DeKalb Farmers Market: Food and Ethnicity in Atlanta,” Southern Cultures 13, no. 4 (Winter 2007), republished in Sauceman and Edge, eds., Cornbread Nation V: The Best of Southern Food Writing (University of Georgia Press, 2010)

Dr Olson Pictures

Contact Information

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.