Borders of the Middle Border, Heart of the Heartland

I was reading my local alternative news and culture magazine, the Little Village. In the most recent issue, there is an article by Thomas Dean titled Mapping the Middle: What delineates the heartland. It is about how the Midwest is defined.

Dean mentions a mapping of the Midwest done by way of an online survey. He describes the results, from the Little Village article:

The eastern edges flow into New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma seem pretty solid on the map’s southern border. The western edges extend from the Texas panhandle as far as Idaho. And plenty of Canada is in “the Midwest,” too, extending on the north up to Calgary and Edmonton. Some responses even include Seattle, Las Vegas and much of northern Mexico. If the Midwest is a state of mind, this map redefines the idea of “expanded consciousness.”

The above links for the original website ( are now dead. I did find another article from the City Lab website (The Atlantic) that has info and also a map—Go Ahead, Try Drawing an Outline of the Midwest on a Map by Jennie Xie:

This is interesting survey as it includes respondents from all over the US and beyond. The map is interactive allowing you to look at the data according to where respondents were born and how long, if at all, they have lived in the Midwest. Depending on which category or categories is included, the Midwest’s boundaries shift, mainly centered in the same basic region but expanding or shrinking.

Dean mentions that, having taught in different states, he has had the opportunity to ask students about this topic. His “(unscientific) conclusion” was that, “The Midwest radiates out in a circle from the respondent’s location at the center.” He goes on to write:

When I asked the question in Michigan, Pennsylvania was often included; not one student mentioned either of the Dakotas, and I got only a smattering of the Minnesotas. When I asked students in Moorland, Minn. (just a wheat stem away from Fargo, N.D.), Montana and Colorado were popular answers, and it seemed as if they had never heard of Ohio and MIssouri. Nearly always, the responder’s own location was at the center of the circle.

That makes sense. We are subjectively biased, of course, the world extending outward from where we are. Besides, the Midwest is the Heartland and the heart is where your home is. Maybe that is why the results lead to such an extended defining of the boundaries of the Midwest by those outside of the Midwest. As I’ve argued, the Midwest is the standard by which many people judge being American. As America has grown, so has the Midwestern identity.

According to most mappings, Iowa appears to be about the center of what people think of as the Midwest. This is true for people born outside of the US and have spent no time in the Midwest. And this is true for those who were born in core Midwestern states and have lived in the Midwest their entire lives.

If you limit to Iowans who have lived in the Midwest their entire lives, you get the same boundaries as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Dean concludes with this:

Oh, and by the way, as I’ve solidified my own Midwestern map over the years to conform to the U.S. Census Bureau’s, Iowa City is about smack dab in the middle of that.

I’ve come to this view for my own reasons. As a long-term Iowa City resident, I’m biased toward Iowa (specifically Eastern Iowa) as the center of the Midwest. Most Americans seem to basically agree in that Iowa is somewhere in or directly around the center of the mapped results. This makes sense as this is the precise area where originated Standard American English (also called General American).

Midwest began as what was called the Middle West. It was seen as the expanding frontier in the main corridor through which early pioneers traveled. It seems that the Midwest has been expanding ever since. At this point, it has come to define the public perception of much of the interior expanses of largely rual landlocked states, especially any state that has a history of farming.

Iowa was once the far frontier, the Mississippi Rivr being the last major boundary of westward flow of settlements. Now Iowa has become the approximate geographic center of the Midwest, the Heart of the Heartland.

The Midwest is a major theme in my blog. Among other posts I could list, here are some related posts:

Midwestern Values of Community & the Common Good

Midwest vs Coasts: history, culture & politics

America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest

American Borg: On Assimilation & Family

Midlands Mestizo: Pluralism and Social Democracy

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

Midwestern Green

Iowa State Parks: Past and Present

To Be Iowan…

Iowa Biking & Rural Politics

Iowa Politics & the Younger Generations

Great Depression, Iowa, & Revolts

Radicals & Reformers of Indiana

Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

Appalachia Meets Midlands: My Kentucky & Indiana Family History

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