Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 000-000


Copyright 2009 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


In this sophisticated reinterpretation, Sarah T. Phillips traces the history and impact of New Deal conservation policy. She argues persuasively that rural conservation programs deserve a prominent place in New Deal historiography because they significantly shaped the New Deal state and because they were integral to the New Deal's campaign for economic recovery. Her work is sufficiently broad and innovative to invite criticism at multiple points on evidentiary grounds, but the book is consistently engaging.

Phillips shows that during the 1920s, eastern land use planners and politicians, along with progressives in the USDA, advocated planned and coordinated use of natural resources, scientific farming, and soil and water conservation as ways of enhancing rural Americans' standard of living. America's openness to change during the Depression offered these reformers the chance to implement their ideas through programs that included the Tennessee Valley Authority, submarginal land retirement, and rural resettlement. After Plains residents balked at the notion that their land was submarginal, though, New Dealers moderated their approach and emphasized rehabilitation in place.