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Tore Olsson

Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies


I am a historian of the United States since the Civil War. I’m particularly interested in the U.S. South, pop culture, rural and agricultural history, transnational history, environment, and food. As a writer and teacher, I hope to make serious history accessible and relevant to a diversity of audiences.

My most recent book, out in August 2024, is Red Dead’s History: A Video Game, an Obsession, and America’s Violent Past (St. Martin’s Press / Macmillan). The book turns a spotlight on the recent Red Dead Redemption video games, the most-played digital renditions of American history since The Oregon Trail. Weaving the games’ plot and characters into an exploration of American violence between 1870 and 1920, the book shows that it was more often disputes over capitalism and race, not just poker games and bank robberies, that fueled the bloodshed of these turbulent years. From the West to the Deep South to Appalachia, the book seeks to reveal the gritty world that inspired the games, but sometimes lacks context and complexity on the digital screen. Aimed at video gamers and historians alike, the book was inspired by my recent experimental undergraduate class.

My first book, Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton University Press, 2017), sought to dismantle the artificial boundaries that can divide American and Latin American history. It examined 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. Agrarian Crossings was the recipient of five awards, including the Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Tomassini Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association, and the Saloutos Book Prize from the Agricultural History Society. You can read the book’s introduction here; listen to me discuss the book on the New Books Network podcast here.

I am currently working on a book titled The Global Cowboy: How American Country Music Traveled and Transformed the World, which builds on my long-standing interest in thinking globally about the American countryside. It will examine two converging trends of the twentieth century: 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 the US government, military, 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, among others. I have written articles for the American Historical Review, Journal of Southern HistoryEnterprise & Society, and Southern Cultures.

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

Research Interests

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


Ph.D., University of Georgia, 2013

BA, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2004

Selected Publications


Red Dead’s History: A Video Game, an Obsession, and America’s Violent Past (St. Martin’s Press / Macmillan, 2024)

“Violence, Power, and American History in Video Games,” American Historical Review, forthcoming 2024

“The South in the World: A Review Essay,” Journal of Southern History 87, no. 1 (Spring 2021)

“Transplanting el Tenesí: Mexican Planners in the US South during the Cold War Era,” in Andra Chastain and Timothy Lorek, eds., Itineraries of Expertise: Science, Technology, and Environment in Latin America’s Long Cold War (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020)

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)

“Peeling Back the Layers: Vidalia Onions and the Making of a Global Agribusiness,” Enterprise & Society 13, no. 4 (December 2012)

“Your DeKalb Farmers Market: Food and Ethnicity in Atlanta,” Southern Cultures 13, no. 4 (Winter 2007)

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