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 them