GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: NO6

The historian Frederick J. Turner wrote in the 1890's that the agrarian discontent that had been developing steadily in the United States since about 1870 had been precipitated by the   closing of the internal frontier--that is, the depletion of available new land needed for further expansion of the American farming system. Not only was Turner's thesis influential at the   time, it was later adopted and elaborated by other scholars, such as John D. Hicks in The Populist Revolt (1931). Actually, however, new lands were taken up for farming in the United States throughout and beyond the nineteenth century. In the 1890's, when agrarian discontent had become most acute, 1,100,000 new farms were settled, which was 500,000 more than had been settled during the previous decade. After 1890, under the terms of the Homestead Act and its successors, more new land was taken up for farming than had been taken up for this purpose in the United States up until that time. It is true that a high proportion of the newly farmed land was suitable only for grazing and dry farming, but agricultural practices had become sufficiently advanced to make it possible to increase the profitability of farming by utilizing even these relatively barren lands.

The emphasis given by both scholars and statesmen to the presumed disappearance of the American frontier helped to obscure the great importance of changes in the conditions and consequences of international trade that occurred during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened and the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed. An extensive network of telegraph and telephone communications was spun: Europe was connected by submarine cable with the United States in 1866 and with South America in 1874. By about 1870 improvements in agricultural technology made possible the full exploitation of areas that were most suitable for extensive farming on a mechanized basis. Huge tracts of land were being settled and farmed in Argentina, Australia, Canada, and in the American West, and these areas were joined with one another and with the countries of Europe into an interdependent market system. As a consequence, agrarian depressions no longer were local or national in scope, and they struck several nations whose internal frontiers had not vanished or were not about to vanish. Between the early 1870's and the 1890's, the mounting agrarian discontent in America paralleled the almost uninterrupted decline in the prices of American agricultural products on foreign markets. Those staple-growing farmers in the United States who exhibited the greatest discontent were those who had become most dependent on foreign markets for the sale of their products. Insofar as Americans had been deterred from taking up new land for farming, it was because market conditions had made this period a perilous time in which to do so.

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The author is primarily concerned with

  • A showing that a certain interpretation is better supported by the evidence than is an alternative explanation
  • B developing an alternative interpretation by using sources of evidence that formerly had been unavailable
  • C questioning the accuracy of the evidence that most scholars have used to counter the author's own interpretation
  • D reviewing the evidence that formerly had been thought to obscure a valid interpretation
  • E presenting evidence in support of a controversial version of an earlier interpretation.

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