The American Midwest
An Interpretive Encyclopedia
Publication Year: 2007
This first-ever encyclopedia of the Midwest seeks to embrace this large and diverse area, to give it voice, and help define its distinctive character. Organized by topic, it encourages readers to reflect upon the region as a whole. Each section moves from the general to the specific, covering broad themes in longer introductory essays, filling in the details in the shorter entries that follow. There are portraits of each of the region's twelve states, followed by entries on society and culture, community and social life, economy and technology, and public life. The book offers a wealth of information about the region's surprising ethnic diversity -- a vast array of foods, languages, styles, religions, and customs -- plus well-informed essays on the region's history, culture and values, and conflicts. A site of ideas and innovations, reforms and revivals, and social and physical extremes, the Midwest emerges as a place of great complexity, signal importance, and continual fascination.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Midwestern History and Culture
The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia is organized topically, as indicated in the general table of contents. Each section begins with a table of contents for the section, and further organizational explanation is offered in the Senior Consulting Editors’ overview essays that appear at the start...
Preface and Acknowledgments
Most Americans have an ambiguous sense of regional identity. If asked to explain who they are, few would think first of regionalism—an expression of imagined identity with people who inhabit a perceived common landscape. Ethnicity, race, gender, religion, and state, among other things...
“Prodesse quam conspici” (“To produce rather than to be conspicuous”), the motto of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is a fitting credo for the American Midwest as a whole. In the popular imagination, Midwesterners are generally considered...
Landscapes and People
Portraits of the Twelve States
The American Midwest means different things to different people. Its shape and contours shift dramatically, depending on where you are standing. From Ohio, the Missouri River looks like a distant boundary in a different kind of place. From Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—part farm country and part forested lake terrain, imbued...
Images of the Midwest
Place imagery appears a trivial subject at first glance. The associations of Wisconsin with cheese and Colorado with mountains, to take two popular examples, are known to conceal as much as they reveal. Our educational system rightfully teaches us to be suspicious of such stereotypes. Imagery persists, however. It does so for the practical reason...
As defined in this encyclopedia, the Midwest region of the United States encompasses roughly 600,000 square miles, or about one-fifth the area of the Lower 48 states. The region is bounded by Canada and the Great Lakes on the north, by the Great Plains...
It is not too much to say that the broad outlines of the history of the Midwest are subsumed within the migration to the region and subsequent interaction of its peoples. One could also argue that one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the region is its ethnic and racial heterogeneity...
Society and Culture
It may surprise readers of this encyclopedia to discover that, just as the Midwest is remarkably varied in its physical and cultural environments, it is and has been home also to an enormous variety of languages and to considerable variation in its English. That last point may seem most peculiar because midwesterners themselves, as well as those who caricature...
Folklore is at once a word with peculiar origins and meanings, a complex and evolving system of traditional artistic practices within cultural groups, and a field of study—all of which have significance within the American Midwest...
In 1924, the first issue of the New Yorker appeared on newsstands with the now famous proviso that it was “not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.” Wondering how the new offering would play in the heartland, Time magazine sent a copy to one of its midwestern readers, who retorted, “The editors of the periodical you forwarded are, I understand, members...
To consider the Midwest as a breeding ground for creativity in the production of architecture, the visual and decorative arts, and music, one must take into consideration more than a summary of its constituent parts. Probing beyond the “catalog” approach to makers and their creative offerings...
The words culture and midwestern are rarely linked in American popular consciousness. Indeed, New York has been considered the cultural capital of the United States since the nineteenth century. Yet, to paraphrase poet Carl Sandburg, the Midwest functions as the “big shoulders” on which the culture of the nation rests...
The first major factor in accounting for the development of religion in the Midwest is the region’s relatively recent settlement by European Americans. Unlike that of the eastern seaboard and the southwestern states, the European presence in the Midwest during the age of colonization...
The popular image of the one-room country schoolhouse as the embodiment of education in the Midwest is only one dimension of a complex story. Indeed, the characteristics of midwestern schooling are remarkably diverse. The distinctive regional themes of education in the Midwest have emerged from dynamic tensions among conflicting...
Sports and Recreation
Visitors to Tommy Bartlett’s Thrill Show in the Wisconsin Dells know they are getting something few other places in the nation now offer. The athletic water skiers, both male and female, dressed in sparkling sequins and satin, dazzle audiences with their daring flips...
Media and Entertainment
If the Midwest has a distinctive identity, it is not immediately clear that this readily extends to the area of Media and Entertainment. Indeed, for most people, the idea of media and entertainment immediately conjures up a range of individuals, texts, and artifacts that transcend regional identity to resonate at a national, even global, level...
Community and Social Life
When most people think of the Midwest, they envision a rural landscape dotted with farm homes and with fields of corn visible for miles. Indeed, agriculture is central to the concept of the Midwest as a region, and the historical dominance of small family farms is one of its distinctive features...
Perhaps no other region in the United States is so closely associated with the image of small-town life as the Midwest. From the first settlement of the region by European American farmers to the present, the small town has played a central role in the region’s economic and social development...
Urban and Suburban Life
The Midwest includes a diverse array of cities. From Youngstown and Cleveland in the east to Omaha and Wichita in the west, midwesterners inhabit cities with distinct identities and histories. The Midwest is not a region of cookie-cutter metropolises, each one identical to the next. The Motor City of Detroit, the Windy City of Chicago, the Queen City of Cincinnati...
Economy and Technology
Labor Movements and Working-class Culture
From the Civil War era until the mid-twentieth century, the Midwest was the storm center of the American labor movement. From the Haymarket Affair in 1886 and the Pullman Strike in 1894, to the General Motors Sit-Down Strike of 1936–1937 and the defeats of the Staley, Caterpillar, and newspaper workers’ strikes in the mid-1990s, midwestern...
The history of transportation in the Midwest is varied and complex. It is the story of men and women dealing with time and space across a broad and varied geographical landscape. The Midwest is a vast region that includes forests, prairies, lakes, and rivers, all of which have influenced the location...
Science and Technology, Health and Medicine
Although they caused difficulty for the early settlers, the geology, climate, and topography of the Midwest also offered opportunity, and the numerous streams, rivers, and great lakes encouraged as well as blocked movement. Early means of transportation were through these bodies of water, facilitated by canals, and then by advances in shipping...
Constitutional and Legal Culture
The great prairie lawyer Abraham Lincoln once said of an opposing legal counsel’s argument: “He caught on to something, but only by the hind leg.” Lincoln’s observation applies to our current understanding of the legal culture of the Midwest...
The existence of the Midwest as a political region in American politics is widely assumed. A Lexis-Nexis search of major newspapers for the six months from October 2003 through March 2004, for example, reveals almost three hundred news stories explicitly linking the region with the 2004 presidential election. But to what extent is the Midwest...
Throughout its history the Midwest has been at the fringe of conflicts fought elsewhere. Military operations on its soil have been minor compared to those at the centers of combat. Nonetheless, important actions have been joined here, especially during Native American prehistory, the European quests for empire in the region, and wars between...
About the Editors