This lesson will seek to explain services and products in early and contemporary rural areas. In doing this, it will highlight the Industrial Revolution, commercialization, cash crops, and urbanization.
Rural & Subsistence
Although I live only about an hour from Philadelphia and only about 2 hours from New York City, the area I live in is still considered rural, or having the characteristics of the countryside. To state it differently, I live in what we call the country, outside of town, and surrounded by farms. However, other than the fact that we own lots of land, my lifestyle is not what has been traditionally thought of as rural. Yes, I have raised a few free-range chickens, and I've tried my hand at gardening, but these activities were really just for fun. They had nothing to do with my subsistence.
Yes, I do live in a rural area, but my modern day rural life looks very unlike the rural areas of our more modern past or, speaking more specifically, the 18th and 19th centuries. To bring this point home, we'll spend today comparing rural life in these centuries to rural life today. However, since this is such a broad concept, we'll definitely find ourselves using some generalization.
For starters, let's take a look at what rural life looked like years ago in our early modern past. For some in this era, rural life consisted of what is called subsistence farming, in which goods are produced for the consumption and survival of one's family group. In this subsistence lifestyle, most goods were produced by the family for the family.
Service Industry & Industrial Revolution
These subsistence farmers had little to no dealings with what we call the service industry, a business that provides goods and services to a customer, but is not involved in manufacturing. In other words, a subsistence farmer might buy pots every once in a while from a tinker, or a traveling metal peddler and repairer. However, unlike my modern rural life, they weren't skipping into town every day to grab a gallon of milk, hire a local contractor, or go out to eat at the local restaurant. Instead, most of their goods and services were provided by the family and the family farm.
As time progressed, the 18th century saw the onset of the Industrial Revolution, in which societies began moving from predominantly rural to predominantly urban areas, with urban meaning having the characteristics of a city or a town.
With technological advancements beginning to creep into even rural areas, cottage industries, businesses or manufacturing occurring in someone's home, became commonplace. These cottage industries served to provide services to rural areas. For instance, a woman may have begun a mending business in her home, a doctor may have started seeing patients in his back room, or a tinker may have decided to trade in his traveling cart for a home addition perfectly built and suited for a small retail shop. In my modern rural life, these cottage industries have morphed into things like the local dress shop, the local privately-owned doctor's office, and the local home goods store.
Commercialization & Urbanization
As the Industrial Revolution continued to make its mark, many subsistence farmers moved from providing food just for their families to dabbling in commercialization, producing for a market, making one dependent on the buying and selling of goods. Stated simply, they were no longer content with just filling their own pantry shelves. Instead, they wanted to fill the metaphorical pantries of their neighbors, their towns, and so on.
Interestingly, the Industrial Revolution had a whole lot to do with this. To explain, the Industrial Revolution saw a huge wave of urbanization, the migrating of people from rural areas to urban ones. Usually, this occurred as agriculturalists and cottage industrialists realized they could find higher paying jobs in the city. However, and quite serendipitously for the farmers left behind, these city dwellers needed someone to supply them with food.
Cash Crops & Agribusiness
With this need, many rural areas began producing cash crops, crops grown with the specific intent to be predominantly sold, not consumed by the grower. As growing cities created higher demands for these cash crops, money began to trickle down into more rural areas.
Interestingly, as these cash crops grew, the services available in rural areas also grew. In other words, parts of what were usually considered city life began ebbing into rural areas. Things like restaurants, clothing shops, and specialty contractors or handymen began offering access to paid services that farmers used to take care of all on their own. Now, rather than making all their own wagon wheels, a farmer could go in and order one at a local mercantile. And rather than slaving over a hot coal stove every day, a woman could say, 'Let's go out for dinner tonight!'
My area is an excellent example of what cash crops can do for an area. To explain, I live rather near to one of the biggest producers of apples in the nation. This is known as an agribusiness, corporately owned landholdings, farmed and operated by large companies.
The profits from these massive farms have trickled down into our rural community, making the service industry boom in our rural area. Yes, we're still rural, but unlike my earlier counterparts, I can jump in a car and be at many different restaurants or huge box stores rather quickly.
Speaking of cars, the Industrial Revolution also transformed rural areas through transportation services. For example, the invention of the steam engine, an engine powered by the expansion or rapid condensation of steam, revolutionized rural farming. Now rather than slowly trekking their goods to market by wagon, they had access to steam locomotives and even steamboats for transporting their goods.
This trend has only increased today. For instance, our area apple growers aren't just selling their crisp fruits locally or even regionally. On the contrary, our modern transportation services allow them to export their products across oceans and seas.
Rural denotes having the characteristics of a countryside. Urban denotes having the characteristics of a city or a town.
Before the 18th through 19th centuries' Industrial Revolution, in which societies began moving from predominantly rural to predominantly urban areas, rural areas had very little access to what is coined the service industry, a business that provides goods and services to a customer, but is not involved in manufacturing.
Instead, most of rural life was that of subsistence farming, in which goods are produced for the consumption and survival of one's family group. As the Industrial Revolution grew in power, cottage industries, businesses or manufacturing occurring in someone's home, became commonplace. Industrialization also led to commercialization, producing for a market, making one dependent on the buying and selling of goods.
Industrialization also led to urbanization, the migrating of people from rural areas to urban ones. As people moved to the city, the demand for food production increased. This led to the production of cash crops, crops grown with the specific intent to be predominantly sold, not consumed by the grower. Fortunately, as the demand for these crops grew, money and access to more services began to trickle down into more rural areas.
The invention of the steam engine, an engine powered by the expansion or rapid condensation of steam, also gave rural areas access to transportation services. This allowed rural areas much greater ease in getting their goods to markets. This has only increased in the modern age as rural agribusinesses, or corporately-owned landholdings, farmed and operated by large companies, now export all over the world.
After you finish the video, you should have the ability to:
- Describe what is considered a rural area
- Explain how service industry and the Industrial Revolution impacted rural areas
- Consider how commercialization and urbanization have changed modern rural areas
- Discuss cash crops and agribusiness and how they changed rural areas
- Recall how transportation shaped modern rural areas differently