Kevin Kelly wrote up a good recommendation of the two PBS back in time documentaries, Frontier House and 1900 House. I watched both of them and agree with him completely. Whenever I see environmentalists and anti-globalization activists talking about the glory and dignity of subsistence farming, I think back on these shows and wonder if they really have any idea what they’re talking about. (Neither of them featured farming, really, but both depict the trials and tribulations of life not that long ago.) Watching these shows gives you an idea just how freeing the conveniences of modern life are in terms of letting us pursue the activities that bring us joy. Kelly doesn’t mention Manor House, another documentary in the same vein. It was excellent as well, and focused mainly on the class structure of Edwardian Britain. In 1900 House and Frontier House, women made up the lower class, and were subjected to a life of nearly constant labor. In Manor House, there’s a set of servants that do incredible amounts of work to enable the genteel lifestyle enjoyed by the family chosen to portray the manor born. (Original link via Kottke.)
Update: Rebecca Blood catches me in a bit of sloppy writing with regard to subsistence farming, and distinguishes between sustainability and subsistence. The point I made above was extremely unnuanced. Obviously sustainable agriculture (and manufacturing, and energy production, and living in general) is essential if we’re to have a future as a race. I had a more general “anti-progress” sentiment in mind when I wrote that, and I agree that it’s not that widely held by environmentalists.