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November 13, 2013

Ryan Hall (History) is the only graduate student in recent memory to have won the 2012 Vernon Carstensen Memorial Award, given each year by the Agricultural History Society. His winning essay, “Struggle and Survival in Sallisaw: Revisiting John Steinbeck’s Oklahoma,” appeared in volume 87, no. 3 (Summer 2012) of Agricultural History. The paper on Sallisaw began as a thesis project at the University of Oklahoma, where he earned his bachelor’s degree.

In the article, Ryan explores the historical experience of Sallisaw, the Oklahoma community Steinbeck fictionalized in his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s portrayal “used frontier mythology to tap into American nostalgia for yeoman agriculture and anxiety about its perceived collapse during the 1930s,” he says. He argues that although many aspects of the novel reflected reality, “the roots of local farmers’ social and economic marginalization ran far deeper” than Steinbeck described. Farmers “responded in a variety of ways to the catastrophe of the Depression, turning to federal relief, conservation, and marginal farmland when confronted with hard times.”

Ryan’s current research, advised by John Mack Faragher and Ned Blackhawk, focuses on the American West and American Indian history. His dissertation is a social and political history of the Blackfoot peoples of Montana and Alberta between 1782 and 1870, and explores the many ways native people adapted to and controlled the plains fur trade.