The Perfect Fence
Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire
Western History - Agricultural History - Ranching - Business History
6.125 x 9.25, 296 pp.
42 b&w photos. 2 figures. Table. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 11/15/2017
Connecting the Greater West Series
Price:        $40.00 s

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The Perfect Fence

Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire

Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott

Barbed wire is made of two strands of galvanized steel wire twisted together for strength and to hold sharp barbs in place. As creative advertisers sought ways to make an inherently dangerous product attractive to customers concerned about the welfare of their livestock, and as barbed wire became commonplace on battlefields and in concentration camps, the fence accrued a fascinating and troubling range of meanings beyond the material facts of its construction.

In The Perfect Fence, Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott explore the multiple uses and meanings of barbed wire, a technological innovation that contributes to America’s shift from a pastoral ideal to an industrial one. They survey the vigorous public debate over the benign or “infernal” fence, investigate legislative attempts to ban or regulate wire fences as a result of public outcry, and demonstrate how the industry responded to ameliorate the image of its barbed product.

Because of the rich metaphorical possibilities suggested by a fence that controls through pain, barbed wire developed into an important motif in works of literature from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Early advertisements proclaimed that barbed wire was “the perfect fence,” keeping “the ins from being outs, and the outs from being ins.” Bennett and Abbott conclude that while barbed wire is not the perfect fence touted by manufacturers, it is indeed a meaningful thing that continues to influence American identities.

LYN ELLEN BENNETT is professor of history at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. Her research focuses on the American West, gender, and material culture studies. SCOTT ABBOTT is professor of humanities, philosophy, and integrated studies at Utah Valley University. He is the author of five books, most recently, Immortal for Quite Some Time: Fraternal Meditations.

What Readers Are Saying:

“This fascinating history is vitally important to the stories of business, agriculture, advertising, and expansion in the US past. Especially impressive is its generous sampling and subtle analysis of barbed wire within culture studies, as a complex site of enclosure, pain, and resilience.”—David Roediger, author of Class, Race, and Marxism

"In The Perfect Fence, Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott have written the surprising, entertaining, and useful history of that staple of American agriculture, the barbed wire fence.  This is a rich volume, full of the art, poetry, and controversy surrounding the topic.  Who knew that barbed wire was so embedded in the American psyche?  For anyone interested in agricultural, rural, western, and economic history, or the cultural aspects thereof, this is a book worth reading." Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, author of Rooted in Dust: Surviving Drought and Depression in Southwestern Kansas

“With this well-written and innovative book—on a subject of wide interest—now we have a guide to what barbed wire has meant in American history.” —Cary Nelson Jubilee Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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