Research in rural history at the University of Guelph aims to transcend simplified views and distortions about the past. Guelph’s historians and their colleagues seek to understand rural men and women, families and communities from their own viewpoints, as they sought to shape themselves and their society. Rural history here includes farming and agriculture, but encompasses the whole history of (and images of) rural society, politics, economy, and institutions.
Until quite recently, most people lived in rural settings. Yet most history has been written from the perspective of urbanites. Often, the rural world has been less understood than stylized, as a contrast, good or bad, with the city: if the urban is dynamic, the countryside is static; if the urban is progressive, the rural is traditional; if the urban is bad, the rural is good; if the city is artificial, the rural is natural.
Studying – and serving – rural communities has been a core orientation of the University of Guelph since its origins as an agricultural college. The Department of History has long shared this interest, as was recognized in 2002 by the establishment of the Canada Research Chair in Rural History. Today a number of historians (faculty and graduate students) are pursuing research on rural subjects in widely varied contexts.
This website highlights what we do and seeks to assist students and scholars, at Guelph and elsewhere. It offers information on sources (at present mainly, but not only, in a Canadian context) and selective links to relevant material at and beyond Guelph. Through it, we hope to encourage research in and debates about the field. The site will continue to evolve. We welcome suggestions: advice, information, comments, and criticism.
One fundamental source for rural history is the manuscript census. See the special projects here at the University of Guelph to build public use micro-samples of the 1871 and 1891 manuscript censuses.