Forgotten Midwest

The Sporcle website has a quiz for mapping the states of the United States. Sasha Trubetskoy posted a map of the results (or see the version with the state names) and along with it are the results (and the results are unscientifically confirmed by another online quiz):

 

Iowa is at the center of the main clump of least remembered states. But Iowa is also at the center of what most people think of as the Midwest. Apparently, the Heartland is terra incognita for most Americans. People fly over it in planes and in their minds, just some vague nowhere in the middle of the country.

The Midwest, Is It Great?

I’m a big fan of the view that regions in the U.S. are more or less culturally distinct, although with plenty of overlap at the borders. As a Midweseterner, I have pride in my region, along with significant criticisms, but for the moment I’ll focus on the positives.

I’m not offering a serious analysis here. I just came across an article about the Midwest that offered some data and so I thought I’d share it. The article is This Is Why It’s So Great To Be A Midwesterner, According To Science by Sara Boboltz. It is a HuffPo fluff piece, but some of the data is nonetheless interesting.

Regional Differences In Personalities Confirmed In New Study

“Their findings: Friendly and conventional were the most common traits among people living in the South and north-central Great Plains region, while relaxed and creative were the most common traits for those in the Western and Eastern seaboard areas. New Englanders, on the other hand, were most likely to possess the traits of uninhibited and temperamental.”

Yeah, friendly and conventional. That sounds about right. This might seem strange in some ways, though, for these same parts of the Midwest are also historically known for their progressive and socialist politics. So, it is conventional in its own way, but not in the way the MSM media portrays what is conventional in the US.

By the way, there appears to be one state that is a good balance between Midwestern and West Coastal predispositions. That state is Wyoming. It rates moderately high on friendly and conventional while it also rates moderately high on relaxed and creative. Colorado also looks fairly balanced between the two.

Volunteering in America: Research Highlights

“Highest volunteer rate: Since 1989, the Midwest region of the United States has had the highest volunteer rate among U.S. regions for all adults, with a rate of 23.9 percent in 1989, and 30.2 in 2008. This is a shift from 1974 when the West had the highest volunteer rate.

“Largest number of volunteers: Since 1974, the number of volunteers in the South has almost doubled from 10.5 to 20.7 million, giving the South the largest number of volunteers of all the regions. Just between 2006 and 2008, the South has gained almost 300,000 volunteers. The Midwest comes in at a distant second in volunteer numbers at about 15.6 million.”

Two other regions need to be given credit. The West region doesn’t have the highest rate of volunteers, but apparently those who do volunteer make up the difference for they win the award for most volunteer hours on average. In the Northeast region, they are dedicated to fundraising and so at least they put their money where their mouth is. As for specific states, Utah and Alaska deserve respect in their volunteer activities.

Route 66, Midwest culture charm international tourists, study finds

““When Europeans travel on Route 66, most of their feedback is that it’s a very different experience from the big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., which can all seem very much alike,” Huang said. “Route 66 reveals the inner beauty of the U.S. Midwesterners are friendly, easygoing and enthusiastic. They’re proud to tell you what they have in their community and are willing to share their heritage, their history and their stories. A lot of tourists enjoy that.””

I’m not so sure about this study. It seemed rather limited and self-serving. Route 66 extends way beyond the Midwest.

Montanans, Alaskans Say States Among Top Places to Live

“Residents of Western and Midwestern states are generally more positive about their states as places to live. With the exception of the New England states of New Hampshire and Vermont, all of the top 10 rated states are west of the Mississippi River. In addition to Montana and Alaska, Utah (70%), Wyoming (69%), and Colorado (65%) are among the 10 states that residents are most likely to say their state is among the best places to reside. Most of these states have relatively low populations, including Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska — the four states with the smallest populations in the nation. Texas, the second most populated state, is the major exception to this population relationship. Although it is difficult to discern what the causal relationship is between terrain and climate and positive attitudes, many of the top 10 states are mountainous with cold winters. In fact, the two states most highly rated by their residents — Montana and Alaska — are among not only the nation’s coldest states but also both border Canada.

“With the exception of New Mexico, all of the bottom 10 states are either east of the Mississippi River or border it (Louisiana and Missouri). New Jersey (28%), Maryland (29%), and Connecticut (31%) join Rhode Island among the bottom 10.”

This seems less about the Midwest. It is only parts of the Midwest that show this pattern. What this actually shows is that the Midwest is split between Eastern and Western Midwest and between Lower and Upper Midwest. This corresponds to the parts of the Midwest that were settled earlier and those settled later, which corresponds to the concentration of populations in rural areas and big cities.

Pinterest Hits 10 Million U.S. Monthly Uniques Faster Than Any Standalone Site Ever -comScore

The popularity of Pinterest in the Midwest isn’t necessarily a good thing. I don’t have any strong opinion about Pinterest, but I’m not sure what value Pinterest adds to the Midwestern quality of life.

America’s Most Affordable Cities

“But the Midwest dominates when it comes to affordability, with 11 metro areas making the list, including five in the state of Ohio alone: Cincinnati (No. 3), Dayton (No. 4), Akron (No. 6), Toledo (No. 11), and Columbus (No. 20). Michigan landed three cities on the ranks: Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Warren. Even as Detroit languishes in the wake of banruptcy, the suburban hub of Warren, half an hour away, is experiencing an auto manufacturing renaissance of its own.”

The real story in the data is that it is extremely expensive to live in the West. That probably has to do with the combination of large populations and low availability of water. Many Western states are dependent on immense government funding to maintain their massive infrastructures.

Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest

“While a decade of efforts to reduce air pollution in the United States has improved air quality in many cities in the Northeast and Midwest, 175 million people are still exposed to dangerous levels of smog and soot, a new report reveals.”

Once again, the real story is that it sucks to live in other places. Having clean air shouldn’t be something that gets praise. Rather, clean air should be seen as a basic human right. The Midwest simply has less polluted air, relatively speaking. But we all share the same freakin atmosphere and so we all end up breathing the pollution, just that some get more of it than others.

Utahans Least Satisfied With Air Quality

“Meanwhile, residents of the northern Midwest are the most likely to be satisfied. South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming top the list, with 96% satisfied in each state. Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are also among this group, as are far away New Hampshire and Vermont. These regional similarities may be related to the climate or geography in these disparate parts of the country, or a matter of population density, or some combination of the three, as in Utah.”

Of course, it is nice living in low population states so that you aren’t constantly sucking on heavily polluted air. This is probably a large reason for why people living there love their states so much. However, those people in those states indirectly contribute to the pollution in the rest of the states by products they buy that are made and transported from elsewhere. It’s the old problem of costs being externalized onto others.

It is strange, though, that Utahans complain about their air quality. I wouldn’t think that Utah has higher rates of pollution than the coastal states. Maybe they are a sensitive group of people. The article blames it on a weather phenomenon that traps the smog where most of the residents live. Could that possibly be worse than some of the bigger cities famous for their smog? Maybe so.

Want a three-car garage? You’re more likely to find it in the Midwest

“For one, housing hasn’t grown evenly in all regions of the country. New homes are largest in the South, where the median floor area last year was 2,469 square feet; they’re smallest in the Midwest, at a median 2,177 square feet. (The median for the whole country is 2,384 square feet.) But over the past four decades, home size has grown the most in the Northeast: The median floor area of a new home there was 61% above the corresponding median in 1973. [ . . . ]

“Midwesterners, by contrast, appear more interested in garage space than living space: 38% of new homes in that region have garages built for three or more cars, well above all other regions. (Perhaps they need the room for their snowblowers and other winter gear?)”

I’m not sure why Midwestern homes would have less floor area. But it is understandable that Midwestern homes have larger garages.

Midwesterners do need more winter equipment. Plus, in my experience, Midwesterners simply love to do manual labor, such as doing their own yardwork or building things. Midwesterners love to have equipment that can be used to accomplish things, whether blowing snow or sawing wood. There is a self-reliant streak, which seems to make Midwesterners reluctant to hire out work, even among those with the money to afford it.

That is just a hypothesis. But I would like to see data about it.

States in West and Midwest Lead Nation in Teacher Respect

“Residents living in several states in the West and Midwest lead the nation in saying teachers in their communities are well-respected. Nevadans and Louisianans are among the least likely to say this about their local teachers — slightly more than six in 10 residents in each state say their teachers are well-respected.”

The differences are worthy of note. In some states, it is nearly 9 in 10 residents who say teachers are well-respected. But pointing that out misses the fact that the majority of all Americans say teachers are well-respected. But you wouldn’t know that by paying attention to right-wing media or listening to conservative politicians.

Buying lunch out? Survey shows Midwesterners spend less than others

“The credit card company found that Americans typically buy lunch out almost twice a week and spend about $10 each time. Specifically, average national spending was $18 per week, or $936 per year.

“But spending patterns varied by region, and Midwest diners spend less on lunches out than people in any other part of the country, the results showed. They went out 1.7 times per week and spent only $8.90 each time, for a weekly average of $15.13.

“Southerners led per-week spending, going out twice a week and spending $10 each time, or $20 a week. Westerners spend $10 per lunch 1.8 times a week for a total of $18.

“Northeasterners lunched out the least, but spent the most when they did, dining out for their midday meal 1.5 times a week but dropping $11.40 each time, for a weekly total of $17.10.”

I don’t know what could possibly explain this. Maybe this relates to the Midwest being a more affordable place to live. So maybe it is also a more affordable place to operate a restaurant, and so cheaper prices for meals served. But it is hard to say. There could be many factors involved.

Anyway, I’m not sure this is evidence for Midwesterners being cheap or thrifty.

The Midwest Accent

“The examples of the cot/caught merger and the Northern Cities Shift serve to contradict the perception that Midwestern speech lacks any distinguishing characteristics. However, both of these developments have been in operation for several decades at least. Why haven’t they entered into popular perceptions about Midwestern speech? Perhaps they will come to be recognized as features of the dialect in the same way that dropping of /r/ serves to mark Boston speech or ungliding of long i (‘hahd’ or hide) marks Southern speech. But, considering the general stereotypes of the Midwest, it seems more likely that they might never be recognized. One thing about linguistic stereotypes is certain: they have less to do with the actual speech of a region than with popular perceptions of the region’s people. As long as Midwesterners are viewed as average, boring or otherwise nondescript, their speech will be seen through the same prism.”

This article is about a shift that is occurring in the Midwestern dialect, a shift that few seem to be noticing at present. It is a change that may lead to larger changes in American English. The Midwest has for a long time been a source of what is considered Standard American English. As Standard American English changes in the Midwest, it likely will shift across the nation.

I don’t know why this matters all that much. It does imply something culturally important about the Midwest. This is the Heartland and it is called that for a good reason. The Midwest has always been central. It is central in terms of geography, in terms of population concentration, and in terms of infrastructure. It is the crossroads of the country.

Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where’s Home?

“Both the survey and Census data indicate that the biggest differences in the characteristics of movers and stayers revolve around geography and education. In the Midwest, nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. That compares with fewer than a third of those who live in Western states. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers, while rural areas are more evenly split. Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once, compared with just over half of Americans with no more than a high school diploma. College graduates also move longer distances — and move more often — than Americans with a high school diploma or less, and employment plays a greater role in their decisions about where to live. By income group, the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.”

That is interesting in a number of ways.

There are differences between more rural and more urban states. But many of the farming states still have most of their populations concentrated in urban areas. So, a rural state isn’t necessarily the same as having a majority rural population.

Something else that came to mind is that the Midwest tends to highly value education. But maybe the Midwesterners who get the most education tend to move away from the Midwest. I don’t know. There are a ton of college towns all over the Midwest, although I’m sure they don’t represent most of the population.

Anyway, it does fit the stereotype of the Midwest. One thinks of the region as a settled place with relatively stable communities. This would follow the aspect of the friendly and conventional Midwestern personality.

 

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 (sasaki.com) 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

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

In my post about Okies, I considered a factor that few know about or understand. Here is a small part of what I explained:

Midwestern culture has become so widespread in American society that it is almost invisible. Midwestern English, specifically in the area centered in and directly surrounding Iowa, became Standard American English which is to say that when someone of this region speaks it is perceived as there having no accent. Ronald Reagan became the great conservative leader from California was born in western Illinois which is part of the region of Standard American English. It was because of Midwesterners such as Reagan that Midwestern English became so common in Hollywood (and so common on nationally broadcast radio and television); by the way, John Wayne also came from this region, having been born in Iowa. This invisibility of Midwestern culture goes along with the invisibility of German-American culture, as the Midwest is the main region where Germans settled and most people don’t realize that there are more Americans of German ancestry than of any other ancestry. Both my parents are largely of German ancestry.

This has been something on my mind for a very long time.

In its most basic form, it relates to an earlier history. The Middle Colonies, as explained by Ned C. Landsman in Crossroads of Empire, helped create a regional culture of multiculturalism that became representative of America in general, despite not being among the earliest of the colonial settlements. This is partly because the population grew there so much faster than in any other region. It was largely because of this fast population growth that the North was able to win the Civil War.

The regional culture of the Middle Colonies had great impact on the Midwest specifically and on the North generally, and because of the Civil War its impact became truly national. The Midwest gets lost in all of this vast history. The regional culture is to Americans as mud is to a mudfish, and it is about as culturally sexy to Americans as is mud.

A big part of this influence was the German immigration. Germans were the single largest group of immigrants in American history (with several large waves of immigration over several centuries), and so they are now the single largest ancestral group of modern Americans.

German culture had a fate not dissimilar to British culture. After the American Revolution, Americans sought to create a new culture independent of that of Britain. After the First World War, Americans also sought to create a new culture independent of that of Germany. There was a nation-wide oppression of all things German which was magnified further with the Second World War. German influences remained, but they became less visible as had the British influences. Both British and German culture have merged almost seamlessly into a general American culture. The influence is there, but few ever notice it or think much about it. It’s just there in the background.

For the first centuries of American history, Germans were a cultural force to be reckoned with. They fiercely defended their culture and large areas of the Midwest were almost entirely German with public schools that taught in German and newspapers that published in German. That American tradition of Germanic culture was almost entirely annihalated in its outward forms. For example, a big reason behind Prohibition was because ethnic groups such as Germans prided themselves on their breweries and loved to drink. There was, however, a revival of German influence after the Second World War when there was a mass immigration of Germans escaping the Nazis, some of them Jews and some of them not but all of them bringing German culture.

So, unlike the English, Germans were able to make a comeback and claim their place as “Real Americans”. The English have always had the taint of oppression from our shared history of war. It is easier to forget and forgive the World Wars in Europe, especially since the Germans who came to America mostly fought on the American side or at least didn’t fight for the enemy (with a few exceptions such as Nazi scientists who came by ‘invitation’, so to speak). However, the British attacked the American colonies (i.e., on American soil) and that is a stigma that will probably remain for as long as the United States continues. The Japanese, likewise, will always have that stigma for Americans.

Nonetheless, Germans have never regained the prominently visible place they once held. Midwestern culture is almost synonymous with German culture, but you wouldn’t know that unless you have closely studied regional history. Even many people living in Midwestern states are oblivious to their own history. In Upper Midwest, they love to celebrate their Scandinavian heritage and yet Scandinavian history is small compared to the German heritage.

Standard American English (or General American) has its origins in the Middle Colonies and the later Mid-Atlantic states, but it didn’t take full form as we know it now until it developed further in a specific region of the Midwest. From there it spread West and through modern mass media became the dominant dialect. It has become so normal of a way of speaking that few notice it, including scholars, when those outside of this small region speak General American.

Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan, etc. These were the purveyors of Standard American English and the Midwestern culture that went with it. Interestingly, the purveyors of this have become even more widespread as the influence of the United States has spread. American English and hence Midwestern-originated Standard American English has become the most common form of English taught and spoken in the world, so common that even the BBC has begun to use more American English because its worldwide audience has demanded it.

The same goes for religion. The Methodists of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest helped create much of modern American Christianity which spread far and wide, even helping to make the South so strongly religious. However, Midwesterners aren’t known for being dogmatically, politically and vocally religious. Ask most people what Christian denominations are most common in a state like Iowa and they couldn’t even guess.

In the Okie post, I went into great detail about religion. I specifically detailed alternative religion and spirituality. The heretical and/or secular thought of modern American society has much of its origins in this same area of Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. New Age spirituality and New Thought Christianity (Prosperity Gospel, as labeled by Evangelicals) have become so widespread that, like Midwestern dialect and German culture, it has become normalized and amorphous. No one thinks of these things as being Midwestern, for sure. Most people probably assume they were created ex nihilo in that crazy state of California on the West Coast, West of the West.

Many don’t know of the massively influential history of socialism that existed down in states such as Oklahoma and up in states such as Wisconsin, both regions influenced by the Midlands culture of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest as it was carried by the migration patterns going West and then, in the far extent of the Midwest, heading both South and North. Socialism was another popular aspect of German culture and, more generally, Northern European culture. It had been these radical left-wingers during the Populist Era during the 1890s that helped to force the hands of the powerful in eventually creating progressive reform.

This all began with the Quaker colony of William Penn (aka Pennsylvania) along with the Dutch colony of New Netherlands (aka New York). These both introduced a concentrated German influence that was injected into the central regions of early settlements. In time, this influence made itself known in so many ways as to no longer be recognized. It was simply American.

The ancestors of these early settlers, unlike many Appalachians for example, don’t usually identify as ‘American’ on census records and they’ve never tried to force their culture onto the rest of the country. I suppose it was just the fate of history that they ended up having such a powerful impact. And it was the result of being so culturally successful that they were so easily forgotten about.

The Midwest is called the Heartland for reasons beyond it being the center of the most productive farming in the US and in the world. Farming is important and made our country wealthy, but there is a deeper current to why the Midwest captures the American imagination.

It is where Dorothy seeks to return from Oz. It is Superman’s adpted home. It is the future birthplace of Captain Kirk. It is where new things are hoped for and things of the past are longed for. It is a place of renewal. It is where greatnss is seen in the simple. Or so that is how it is seen in the landscape of the American Dream.

It is the Heart of America. A heart that still beats.