The American Midwest
Essays on Regional History
Edited by Andrew R. L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray
Is there a Midwest regional identity? Read this lively exploration of the Midwestern identity crisis and find out.
“Many would say that ordinariness is the Midwest’s ‘historic burden.’ A writer living in Dayton, Ohio recently suggested that dullness is a Midwestern trait. The Midwest lacks grand scenery: ‘Just cornfields, silos, prairies, and the occasional hill. Dull.’ He tries to put a nice face on Midwestern dullness by saying that Midwesterners ‘[l]ike Shaker furniture . . . are plain in the best sense: unadorned.’ Others have found Midwestern ordinariness stultifying. Neil LaBute, who makes films about mean and nasty people, said he was negative because he came from Indiana: ‘We’re brutally honest in Indiana. We realize we’re in the middle of nowhere, and we’re very sore about it.’”
—from Chapter Five, “Barbecued Kentuckians and Six-Foot Texas Rangers,” by Nicole Etcheson.
In a series of often highly personal essays, the authors of The American Midwest —all of whom are experts on various aspects of Midwestern history—consider the question of regional identity as a useful way of thinking about the history of the American Midwest. They begin with the assumption that Midwesterners have never been as consciously regional as Western or Southern Americans. They note the peculiar absence of the Midwest from the recent revival of interest in American regionalism among both scholars and journalists. These lively and well-written chapters draw on personal experiences as well as a wide variety of scholarship. This book will stimulate readers into thinking more concretely about what it has meant to be from the Midwest—and why Midwesterners have traditionally been less assertive about their regional identity than other Americans. It suggests that the best place to find Midwesternness is in the stories the residents of the region have told about themselves and each other.
Being Midwestern is mostly a state of mind. It is always fluid, always contested, always being renegotiated. Even the most frequent objection to the existence of Midwestern identity, the fact that no one can agree on its borders, is part of a larger regional conversation about the ways in which Midwesterners imagine themselves and their relationships with other Americans.
Andrew R. L. Cayton, Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is author of numerous books and articles dealing with the history of the Midwest, including Frontier Indiana (Indiana University Press) and (with Peter S. Onuf) The Midwest and the Nation.
Susan E. Gray, Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University, is author of Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier as well as numerous articles about Midwest history.
Midwestern History and Culture
James H. Madison and Andrew R. L. Cayton, editors
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, index, append.
cloth 0-253-33941-3 $35.00 s / £26.50
The Story of the Midwest: An Introduction
Seeing the Midwest with Peripheral Vision: Identities, Narratives, and Region
Liberating Contrivances: Narrative and Identity in Ohio Valley Histories
Pigs in Space, or What Shapes American Regional Cultures?
Barbecued Kentuckians and Six-Foot Texas Rangers: The Construction of Midwestern Identity
Pi-ing the Type: Jane Grey Swisshelm and the Contest of Midwestern Regionality
“The Great Body of the Republic”: Abraham Lincoln and the Idea of a Middle West
Stories Written in the Blood: Race, Identity, and the Middle West
The Anti-region: Place and Identity in the History of the American Middle West
Middleness and the Middle West