Services in Early and Contemporary Rural Settlements

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  • 0:08 Rural & Subsistence
  • 1:36 Service Industry &…
  • 3:08 Commercialization &…
  • 4:02 Cash Crops & Agribusiness
  • 5:27 Transportation Services
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

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!'

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