If it had, it would be far better understood, have a much stronger cultural clarity, and more recognized for its contributions to American society and economy.
Here’s what I mean. The north central region of the U.S. has been an American paradox since its founding. Unlike other regions of the country, where a critical mass of settlers established a colony or territory and then pursued legitimacy, the core of the region had its territorial boundaries established long before settlers had a chance to make a major imprint on the land. That set off a race for control of the region by two already established regions, New England and Appalachia, with vastly different motivations — and cultural mores. Because they came from different places, they took different paths to the Midwest. New Englanders came via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes, while Appalachians traveled northward across the Ohio River. Rather than intermingle and create a new and blended society, the New Englanders and Appalachians tended to maintain their local strongholds, with New Englanders in larger Great Lakes cities, and Appalachians in the upper regions of the Ohio Valley. And this happened without any reconsideration or adjustment of political boundaries in the Midwest’s early days.
This has hampered our understanding of the Midwest ever since.
Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s say that instead of New York expanding to the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie because it wanted to control development of the Erie Canal, western New Yorkers fought to establish their own state. Similarly, let’s say that early settlers of western Pennsylvania recognized their remoteness from Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and decided local control suited them, too. And let’s further suggest that, instead of becoming part of Ohio, the Connecticut Western Reserve was also allowed to develop as a separate state as well.
Ultimately, it’s conceivable that a new map of the Midwest, one that matches more closely to actual American settlement patterns, might look something like this:
“Danville, in central Illinois, is more closely connected to Des Moines, which is hundreds of miles away in Iowa, than it is to Chicago, which is much closer and in the same state.
That’s not necessarily because there are tons of Danville commuters trekking to Des Moines. Rather, Nelson and Rae’s methodology shows they are both more tightly linked to the necklace of cities in between them—Urbana, Bloomington, Peoria, etc.—than they are to the cities that fall outside the entire zone.”
Welcome to the characteristic that keeps the Midwest from being well understood as a region.