Carla Homstad

Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

H. Duane Hampton


University of Montana

Subject Categories



The Montana Study, a research project in the humanities, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Montana System, operated from 1944 to 1947. The Study primarily sought to help Montanans find ways to stabilize and enhance the quality of life in their small towns. Through a study-group process, twelve Montana towns researched and analyzed the towns' histories and economic and recreational problems. The philosophy of Baker Brownell, director of The Study, was instrumental in shaping and conducting The Study. This paper delineates The Study's methods and goals, assesses its immediate impact, and examines both the sources of Brownell's philosophy and how his ideas influenced The Study.

Archival collections at the Montana State Historical Society and at the University of Montana provide detailed accounts of The Montana Study's activities, budgets and publications. In addition, the University of Montana collection includes correspondence between The Montana Study staff and members of the Humanities Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. This correspondence, covering a ten-year span, reveals much of the impetus for, and internal assessment of, The Study. Also crucial for the purposes of this paper are Brownell's several books and articles. Brownell wrote extensively on the problems of alienation and the need for community in modern America.

Brownell belonged to the wing of progressivism that intended to impose order on a rapidly changing America by applying the verities of the past to newly emerged conditions. His belief that the strength of American democracy lay in rural small towns also aligned him with the Jeffersonian agrarian tradition. The degree to which Brownell's pastoralism affected The Montana Study is reflected in the lack of genuine grass roots support for The Study from Montanans themselves. Analysis of Brownell's work both in Montana and in his writing reveals how he romanticized life in the small town. Because he imagined that sources of community in America could be located only in the small town and because he failed to understand how the small town was not immune from the twentieth century's nationalizing tendencies, Brownell's approach must be criticized as ahistorical.

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© Copyright 1987 Carla Homstad