Agriculture, Culture and Film

Agricultural Journalism 3201 (Section 2) Topics course for SP09

This course is an exploration of the history of agriculture through film, including movies, documentaries and newsreels.

Emphasis is on critical analysis of trends in technology, society, politics, economics, the environment and culture -- and the impact of these trends on farming, food and people. Provides a foundation for understanding and writing about the 21st century food system from farm to fork.

We also consider how aesthetics, stereotypes, Hollywood formulas and cinematic style influence our understanding of the food system and the people connected to it.

King Corn

How have films since 1909 reflected shifting values and images of farmers, consumers and commercial interests? How have changes in filmmaking affected the telling of agriculture’s story? And how have these portrayals by Hollywood, the news media and other communications elites shaped our ideas about food and agriculture?

The films viewed include some documentaries and newsreels, but the emphasis is on North American feature-length movies.

The course is designed for students in CAFNR but also may appeal to students in film studies, history and journalism. A background in film is not required. Assignments and discussions cover the historical context of each film as well as descriptive and interpretive aspects of film as art, literature and mass communication.

The course prepares students to better understand the 21st century food system, to assess the role of film in shaping culture and politics, and to produce intelligent writing about the food system and environment, regardless of career path.

The class meets 4-7 on Mondays and 4-5 on Wednesdays; typically we will watch one film per week, do some readings on ag history and film, discuss the film and issues it raises, and write a few short papers.

Tentative List of Required Books:

  • Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film (6th edition).Longman, 190 pp., $40
  • Ag Journ 3201 "Agriculture, Culture & Film" course packet at Brady Bookstore

Tentative List of Films to be Viewed:


  • A Corner in Wheat (1909)
  • Tol’able David (1921)
  • Our Daily Bread (1934)
  • Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • State Fair (1945)
  • Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
  • Country (1984)
  • The Good Old Boys (1995)


  • The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936)
  • The River (1937)
  • Power and the Land (1940)
  • Death to Weeds (1947)
  • Harvest of Shame (1960)
  • Hybrid (2000)
  • Out of Iowa: Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution (2001)
  • The Gleaners and I (2001, France)
  • Super Size Me (2004)
  • Biography: Ray Kroc: Fast Food McMillionaire (2005)
  • King Corn (2007)

Sample Syllabus

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