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Tuesday, January 17, 2012


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Well, even if no one said anything, people in Cincinnati certainly see themselves as Midwestern. They definitely don't consider themselves Southern.

I'd suggest that the fact these regions were settled earlier and in different ways as you described accounts for the reasons these regions may seem less connected to the rest of the Midwest. Essentially, the patterns of settlement and institutions persist. There's a general pattern of moving East for college, for example. More people seem to come to Ohio universities and college from the more westerly parts of the Midwest than vice versa. The greater Cincinnati region, because it is so much older, has a stronger connection to the University of Michigan than much younger OSU than any other Ohio region aside from Toledo.

Nevertheless, these "border cities" are key areas for the Greater Midwest, partly because they have very similar issues and partly because they connect the Midwest region to the other major American regions. Louisville, the cities of West Virginia, Pittsburgh and western New York (an area you mentioned) are likely to see their prosperity rise and fall with the rest of the Midwest before the Atlantic Coast or the South.

Cincinnatians may not see themselves as upper south/appalachian, but true midwesterners certainly do. The Ohio valley is quite distinct from the flat agricultural lands to its north, with a different history and economy than the farm towns turned industrial cities of the Midwest. Cultural anthropologists locate cincinnati directly on a cultural border between the midwest and upper south. I think this helps to explain its confused and intense social and political life with two separate cultural traditions bumping into each other around every political issue and social event. There is a messy, disorderly, and class conscious quality to life in Cincinnti, louisville, and St. Louis that is very different from the well-organized soberness of columbus, indy, or even chicago.

I think this post gets at the idea that there is no "True Midwesterner." You don't have to be in Cincinnati long to see that while there may be hills it is at the very least midwestern (with a small 'm'). Even Louisville, with it's Southern proclivities harbors more in common with Cincy and Indianapolis than it does with, say Nashville.

Perhaps the river city identity of the border cities like Cincy, Louisville and St. Louis make them a certain sect of midwesterners.

For the first 150 years or so after its founding the U.S. was generally divided into 3 regions: East, South, and West. (Hence the words, "Hail! Hail! to Michigan, the Champions of the West.) I consider anywhere that was in the old Northwest Territory to be the Midwest, regardless of settlement patterns, economy, etc. The South is hardly homogeneous, either. What does New Orleans have in common with Richmond, or Charleston with Memphis? Historically, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, etc., were consider "Western" cities...now Midwestern. Also, having been raised in northern Indiana and educated in the southern part of the state, I definitely see differences, but I don't think the people in either part consider themselves as not part of the Midwest.

Cultural anthropologists have sought to map exactly this sort of thing. A New book addresses these and the implications of such views of U.S. regional cultures.http://www.amazon.com/American-Nations-History-Regional-Cultures/dp/0670022969

I've maintained for quite a long time that there is no "true" singular Midwest, but five -- crossing traditional state lines. Each can lay claim to be truly Midwestern but all are in competition with each other. My Five Midwests, from north to sourh, are:

North Woods: Northern MI and the UP; northern WI and MN

Rust Belt: The Great Lakes from Rochester, NY to Chicago, reaching up to Green Bay

Heartland: The arc that starts around Akron and continues through central OH, IN, IL and goes up the Mississippi River valley to Minneapolis

Midland Valley: The Ohio and lower Mississippi/Missouri Valley, from Pittsburgh, past Cincinnati and Louisville, up to St. Louis

Great Plains: western portions of MO, IA and MN, and the eastern halves of ND, SD, NE and KS

I've tried to explain it as best as I can; I've done a hand-drawn map using county boundaries that illustrates it better.

Just as the Midwest itself is poorly understood, I think the subregions I've identified are as well. There are subtle distinctions in their settlement histories and patterns; the North Woods has a stronger Scandinavian immigrant influence, while the Midland Valley was initially settled by Kentuckians and Tennesseans. what I've also found is that the population centers and economic engines are in the Rust Belt, but state capitals are largely in the Heartland (Columbus, Indianapolis, Springfield, Des Moines). However, the one thing they do have in common is that they were once all considered to be "west".

Interesting that those states' capitals were all originally in the southern parts of their respective states (except Iowa, with Iowa City in the eastern part), because of early migration patterns. I can totally see the crossover when I go back home to Northeast Indiana to visit. My hometown is at the dividing line of the Lutheran/Catholic, German/Irish/Slavic-dominated Rust Belt and the Evangelical Protestant, Scots-Irish/Anglo Midland (trying not to overly generalize.) You can almost tell someone's ancestry by their accent.

I have to agree with the other commenters here. You are being too restrictive.

People from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and St. Louis consider themselves Midwesterners. Although some of the younger foreign born people from Buffalo do not. Louisville is a borderline case.

Heck I met plenty of people from North Dakota who consider themselves Midwestern.

West of the Appalachia makes one dependent on the rivers and Great Lakes and not the Eastern Seaboard. Read Ed Glaeser's article in City about Buffalo (yes I know you do not agree w/his politics).

Also I think there is an ethnic difference. The Upper South is Scots-Irish and rural black . The Midwest is Central European, such as German, make up the bedrock. These are very different ethnicities culturally.

I would like to propose a focus on two significant aspects of the Midwest. It seems there is a stark contrast in economic and cultural dynamics between Midwestern areas that are most affected by the rust belt, and then those that are most affected by the evolution of corporate agribusiness. I believe this is significant in acknowledging how Midwesterners perceive or place the Midwest within their worldview.

Growing up in Columbus, I resented being told I was mid-western. The connotation that seems to surround that is growing up on a farm. I felt I grew up in an urban setting with absolutely no knowledge of farm life. I do not like, at all, to tell people I grew up in the midwest. They get a much different picture of my life than was reality. And I'm pretty sure that holds true for most large cities in the US no matter what region they're located in.

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