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Can you describe what it would have been like to be in the field, holding the short-handled hoe in your hand?

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I think it's really important as an historian to humanize an artifact, to really to not think about it as something that is in a Plexiglas case on exhibit on in a storage cabinet, but it something that's really owned by a real person and used by a person and what that might mean and certainly the hoe is a good example of that. It would be sweaty. You can imagine that the handle would be sweat-stained, that there would be dirt on it. Typically people would put their hoes in their belt loops and carry them around. One of the interesting parts of hoes is hoes actually need to be sharp and if you look closely at this one, you can see it's been sharpened. I was once out watching workers in the field and they were actually harvesting asparagus and they were working down a long row. In California, these farms go on for miles and they came to a road, a little asphalt road where they stopped and all the workers took their asparagus knife and just rubbed them against the asphalt to put a little bit more of an edge on the piece and you can imagine doing that here, that you would occasionally take your hoe to some concrete or to some asphalt and just sharpen up that edge to keep it sharp so that it would be effective as a tool. I've actually never used a short-handled hoe and I've really actually tried to use a long-handled hoe and I can't figure out how to do it effectively. People talk about skilled work and unskilled work and this kind of work always falls into the unskilled end of things, but even unskilled work requires a tremendous amount of skill and when you watch people using a hoe that actually do it professionally, they're really good at it and they can take their hoe and sort of--It looks like with relatively little effort, be very effective at chopping the weeds and cultivating. I've taken my garden hoe and gone out and tried to do it and I end up messing up the plants that it's close to. I end up killing my back even standing up with a long hoe because it's really a lot of work and I don't do a very good job with the weeds, so it clearly is something that requires a lot of experience and a lot of skill and I'm afraid that it's probably a skill that I will never really have.


Interview with Peter Liebhold, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006

Thought to be introduced to California farming at the end of the 19th century by Chinese workers, the short-handled hoe required workers to stoop over as they used it to cultivate crops. Working with the short-handled hoe had long term consequences for agricultural laborers. In 1972, Maurice Jourdane and the California Rural Assistance League began a legal battle to have the tool banned in California. In 1975, the California State Supreme Court ruled that it was an "unsafe hand tool" and, therefore, banned under California state law.