The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Map of the Week, 11/19/2013: 11 American Nations


Even though this Map of the Week feature has turned into a Map of the Every-Once-In-Awhile, I wanted to include this.  This map is from American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard.  I read the book earlier this year.  The book explains that what so many people describe as the intractable red state/blue state divide in our nation is far more complex and nuanced, and has its roots in our nation’s founding and expansion.  Since our founding, our nation has been a competing mix of regional culture alliances, generally led by Yankeedom on one side and the Deep South on the other.

But what I find heartening about the map and book is how it validates my thinking on the fragmentation of the Midwest that keeps it from being viewed as a distinct and cohesive region.  Here’s what I wrote almost two years ago:

I’d also be one of the first to admit that the Midwest as a region is poorly defined.  I first came across this idea from Richard Longworth’s book, Caught in the Middle, in which he struggled to come up with an adequate consensus of the Midwest’s boundaries.  I also saw some similar writings on the matter on The Urbanophile blog by Aaron Renn.   
Longworth noted in his book that the Midwest’s states have often shown difficulties working together, either internally (witness the Chicagoland/Downstate dynamic in Illinois) or externally (the constant pull of jobs from one state to another in the name of economic development).  I’ve often wondered about that myself and came to the conclusion that there may be some demographic dynamics at play.  What did I conclude?  The reason the Midwest is poorly defined, and cooperation is lacking, is because there’s not one Midwest – there are five. 

And there are strong similarities between the map above and the handmade version I did for a followup post on this:

The terminology differs a little and the boundaries shift, but essence is there.  What Woodard calls Yankeedom in the Midwest I split into the less-urban North Woods and the more-urban Lower Lakes, and what I call Midland Valley he calls Greater Appalachia.  I say Heartland, he says Midlands, and Great Plains and Far West (before the mountains) are essentially the same to me.

However you define the regional cultures that make up the Midwest, it is this fragmentation that keeps it from working together to solve broader regional problems, as suggested by Richard C. Longworth in his book Caught in the Middle.  There is a considerable part of the Midwest that sees its cities’ fortunes linked to Appalachian cities like Nashville or Oklahoma City, while some others strive to be more closely aligned with New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

Whatever plays out on a national scale between the regional cultures, it will play out writ small in the Midwest.

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