Our History: Agrisearch from NPAC by Bob Kern

Anyone who was in our profession in 1955 should remember the image below. It was the first of some 42 monthly (supposedly) issues of Agrisearch, a new and innovative service from what we now consider the legendary National Project in Agricultural Communications (NPAC).

This first issue addressed the question: “Where DO They [farmers] Get Their Information?” It was something we’d never seen before. Its seven-item bibliography stood behind a four-page review of literature related to farmers’ sources of information. And it did something else that was new to us – and maybe new to the field of applied communications: It offered the reviewers’ judgment on each general finding drawn from those studies, rating it valid, questionable or unjustified. It also offered implications for action and implications for research.

Over the next three and a half years, 41more issues took up topics considered by NPAC Research Director Dr. John Parsey to be relevant to the communications professionals in AAACE. The last issue was dated December, 1958.

Some of the early topics were “When Television Comes to Town,” “A Look at Diffusion,” “Say it With Pictures,” “Choose Colors!,” “Content Counts Most,” “What Happens When Messages Conflict?,” “Psychological Barriers to Communication” and on and on. The final two issues dealt with “Subliminal Communication,” a hot and debated subject at the time. It’s not easy, we found, to confidently piece together an accurate picture of this remarkable series. We recall our own excitement when the mail brought ur personal copy (as a member of AAACE) – it was interesting, sometimes enlightening, and always thought-provoking.

We recall one old-timer, whom we’ll not name here, whose reaction was, “Hell, I could have told them that without the research.” Of course, he shrugged off our suggestion that it was easier to say that after he’d read the Agrisearch article.

Frankly, we were disappointed to find so few among our ACE life members who have personal remembrances of the publication. Jim Evans recalls using them as he built curriculum and taught courses for the agricultural communications department at the University of Illinois is. Dick Fleming and Anita Povich didn’t remember – of course, they’re too young. Wayne Swegle didn’t remember, either – he’s old enough, but he was an associate member by the time they came out.

Hal Taylor, then on NPAC staff, actually edited the series and put them through the publication process. A principal memory for him was that Parsey and Don Wells couldn’t seem to meet a deadline for regular printing and distribution.

Hal told us that Parsey was the godfather and involved in selecting topics, but Wells had major involvement in researching and cracking the whip over the Michigan State grad students who wrote them. Mason Miller and Bob Crom (who left the field for administration not long after getting his doctorate there) were two graduate students whom Hal could recall. Of course, Wells wrote some of them as well. We wondered if Ralph Reeder had written any in the time he was at Michigan State during the NPAC period – we know he took the content to heart. Taylor remembers that Stanley Andrews, director of NPAC was behind the series. “In this as well as throughout NPAC efforts, Andrews reminded us constantly to remember that we were working for AAACE members,” he said. Another NPAC leader, Mary Holtman, had a lot to say about interests of the fmale contingent, which has always been a strong element in AAACE.

At the time of circulation, many university libraries received the series, and they may still have them somewhere in their catalogs (or maybe dead-storage vaults). The Documentation Center at the University of Illinois (another residual of Jim Evans’s genius) has a full set. The set we have now was one of several full sets from among the papers that remind Purdue’s modern staff that Ralph Reeder (like Kilroy) was there.

It was fun for us again to see all of the issues. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what today’s ACE researchers and practitioners think of these half-a-century-old artifacts?

Bob Kern

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