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Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years

by Walter Clay Lowdermilk

"Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years" is Dr. Walter Clay Lowdermilk's personal report of a study he made in 1938 and 1939. Despite changes in names of countries, in political boundaries, and in conservation technology, the bulletin still has significance for all people concerned with maintaining and improving farm production.

Lowdermilk studied the record of agriculture in countries where the land had been under cultivation for hundreds, even thousands, of years. His immediate mission was to find out if the experience of these older civilizations could help in solving the serious soil erosion and land use problems in the United States, then struggling with repair of the Dust Bowl and gullied South.

He discovered that soil erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, neglect, and conflicts between cultivators and herders have helped topple empires and wipe out entire civilizations. At the same time, he learned that careful stewardship of the earth's resources, through terracing, crop rotation, and other soil conservation measures, has enabled other societies to flourish for centuries.

Much of what Lowdermilk learned and wrote about land use and soil productivity began with his pioneering research work in China, where his wife was a Methodist missionary. Following the start of Civil War in China in 1927, Lowdermilk and his wife returned to the United States. While he was earning his Ph.D. at the University of California-Berkeley, he continued soil erosion and watershed management research for the Forest Service. In 1933, he joined Hugh Hammond Bennett at the just-created Soil Erosion Service as the assistant director and later became the the assistant chief of the Soil Conservation Service. As assistant chief, Lowdermilk held primary responsibility for developing the research program of the agency.

Note to readers: NRCS has reprinted this bulletin to meet the continuous demand from teachers, clergy, writers, college professors, historians, garden clubs, environmental groups, and service organizations. We recognize that the bulletin contains gender-biased language; however, to maintain the integrity of the original report, we have reproduced the text as it was written by Dr. Lowdermilk many decades ago.

Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years (PDF; )