Digital Collections @ St. Lawrence University

About the Back to the Land Research Collection


Jill Breit, Folklorist, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York
M.J. Heisey, Oral Historian, State University of New York at Potsdam
Doug Welch, Circulation Librarian, State University of New York at Canton
Eric Williams-Bergen, Science Librarian, St. Lawrence University

Beginning in the 1960s, St. Lawrence County, New York, was one of dozens of rural destinations in the United States to attract the attention of back-to-the-landers, a broad movement of mostly young people seeking anti-materialistic lifestyles in rural settings. The first back-to-the-landers established communes and individual homesteads, experimented with alternatives to the cash economy, and tried to sustain themselves through farming and other land-based ventures. Over the years, they also became engaged citizens of the county, greatly influencing the public life of the region.

Despite the great significance of back-to-the-landers to the history and culture of the region, no systematic effort has ever been made to assemble a research collection on the subject. The partners in this project, which include the State University of New York at Potsdam and the non-profit organization Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, aim to amass as complete a record of this population as possible.

Three key components of the project are to search the published record for citations, conduct fieldwork in St. Lawrence County, and invite those associated with the back-to-the-land community to submit copies of their own photographs, journals, and newsletters for inclusion in the collection.

Selected items from two collections held at the St. Lawrence University Libraries are included in this project:

This project is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.