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Regionalism and the Humanities

Timothy R. Mahoney

Publication Year: 2009

Although the framework of regionalist studies may seem to be crumbling under the weight of increasing globalization, this collection of seventeen essays makes clear that cultivating regionalism lies at the center of the humanist endeavor. With interdisciplinary contributions from poets and fiction writers, literary historians, musicologists, and historians of architecture, agriculture, and women, this volume implements some of the most innovative and intriguing approaches to the history and value of regionalism as a category for investigation in the humanities.
In the volume’s inaugural essay, Annie Proulx discusses landscapes in American fiction, comments on how she constructs characters, and interprets current literary trends. Edward Watts offers a theory of region that argues for comparisons of the United States to other former colonies of Great Britain, including New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Whether considering a writer's connection to region or the idea of place in exploring what is meant by regionalism, these essays uncover an enduring and evolving concept. Although the approaches and disciplines vary, all are framed within the fundamental premise of the humanities: the search to understand what it means to be human.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii

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Introduction: Regionalism and the Humanities: Decline or Revival?

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pp. ix-xxviii

In November 2003 nearly 150 poets, writers, geographers, musicologists, literary critics, and historians of all fields—from agriculture and architecture to women and immigration—gathered in Lincoln, Nebraska, at a national conference of the Consortium of Regional Humanities Centers to explore the general theme of "Regionalism and...

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Part One. Sensing Place: The Authority of Nature

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pp. 1-5

Insisting on the power and authority a specific regional nature exerts over human life has particular value for writers committed to environmental conservation. Thus Annie Proulx regrets the way authors of books about middle-class life dismiss that authority of nature; the mark of middle-class existence for these modern antiregionalists is apparently...

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1. Dangerous Ground: Landscape in American Fiction

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pp. 6-25

Landscape description was once an important element in novels not only to give meaning and shape to the story but for its strange ability to carry the reader deeply and intimately inside the fiction, to establish the fiction's truth. There is a description of this literary transport in critic James Stern's account of his first reading in...

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2. The Ec(h)ological Conscience: Reflections on the Nature of Human Presence in Great Plains Environmental Writing

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pp. 26-42

The British linguistic philosopher G. E. Moore argued that such naturalistic normative propositions could be either true or false, because they were imprecisely structured and expressed. Accordingly, the attempt to derive what ought to be and what we ought to do based on what naturally exists was especially flawed, and he labeled such...

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3. "I Don't Know, but I Ain't Lost": Defining the Southwest

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pp. 43-55

An old joke finds an easterner driving over the back roads of western Texas until he's hopelessly lost. Finally, he sees a house set back off the road, and he drives up to find an old man sitting on the porch. He leans out the window of his Cadillac and asks the old man which way is north, to which the old man says he doesn't know. The...

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4. A Border Runs through It: Looking at Regionalism through Architecture in the Southwest

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pp. 56-74

A bleached cow skull hangs on the wall next to an old poster of the El Tovar Hotel. Beneath both of them are pigskin and cedar chairs. Hand-woven rugs with red diamond patterns expose the tile floor. Next to the thick, cream-colored walls are Indian baskets, a statue of a howling coyote in profile, and an antique armoire, its wood...

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Part Two. Constructing Place: The Possibility of Local Representation

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pp. 75-78

Ginette Aley, an agricultural historian, cites landscape theorist Donald W. Meinig's notion of vision (rather than, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendental eye) to the effect that "landscape is comprised not only by what lies before our eyes but what lies inside our head."1 Accordingly, she employs a biographical model of history...

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5. Willa Cather's Case: Region and Reputation

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pp. 79-94

When we talk about writers, we often think in regionalist or nationalist terms: novelists or poets explore "authentic" features of a culture, giving voice to the deep structures of a region. Writers have their "place," which they embody in writing; in marking the page with words, they also mark out a terrain. Such thinking...

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6. Dwelling within the Place Worth Seeking: The Midwest, Regional Identity, and Internal Histories

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pp. 95-109

In their introductory essay to The American Midwest, historians Andrew R. L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray write that "[a]mong the most important characteristics of regionality, is its contested and unfinished quality."1 Indeed its changing relation to place, time, and generational perspective gives regionality the quality of a palimpsest, or a slate that...

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7. Gendered Boosterism: The "Doctor's Wife" Writes from the New Northwest

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pp. 110-126

As the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) tracks approached the Missouri River crossing on June 3, 1873, a well-dressed woman on horseback led the crowd that rode out to meet the train at Apple Creek. She received a warm greeting from the train's passengers who recognized her as "the doctor's wife," the author of a series...

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8. "With Powder Smoke and Profanity": Genre Conventions, Regional Identity, and the Palisade Gunfight Hoax

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pp. 127-144

According to legend, when late-nineteenth-century travelers on the Central Pacific Railroad's overland limited route stopped in the little Nevada town of Palisade on their way to Virginia City or even San Francisco, they found themselves, as often as not, in the middle of a gunfight. Drunken cowboys were calling each other out in the street...

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Part Three. Place Is a Relationship: Regionalism, Nationalism, and Transnationalism

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pp. 145-149

In part 2 Barbara Handy-Marchello and Guy Reynolds demonstrated that markets impose limits on the possibilities of regional self-representation for authors: Linda Slaughter wrote for a Midwest publication in terms that characterized the Northern Plains as an enclave for genteel eastern Anglos; Willa Cather wrote for eastern...

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9. Regionalism and the Realities of Naming

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pp. 150-165

Complications seem inevitably to arise whenever one tries to define either regionalism in general or any specific region like the South or the Great Plains or to categorize the art and artifacts that come from or relate to that area by means of such language. Commentators occasionally try to take the easy way out of these taxonomic...

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10. The Midwest as a Colony: Transnational Regionalism

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pp. 166-189

This essay undertakes a very general redefinition of midwestern regional culture as colonial, understood within the context of the global European diaspora of the nineteenth century. The region's cultural identity might be understood not only in conjunction with other American regions, particularly the East, but also among the colonies...

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11. Transcending the Urban-Rural Divide: Willa Cather's Thea Kronborg Goes to Chicago

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pp. 190-210

Two young women are traveling by train to Chicago—country girls off to the big city. Caroline Meeber leaves Columbia City, Wisconsin, carrying a box lunch, a small trunk, a fake alligator-skin satchel, and "a yellow leather snap purse," which holds her ticket, her sister's Chicago address, and four dollars.1 Thea Kronborg leaves Moonstone...

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12. Preaching the Gospel of Higher Vaudeville: Vachel Lindsay's Poetic Journey from Springfield, Illinois, across America, and Back

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pp. 211-232

For a time in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the man who first gave voice to these lines was perhaps the best-known poet in America: Vachel Lindsay. Wildly original and eccentric, Lindsay blazed a poetic trail across the expanse of the United States like no one before him; and not even among those who followed...

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Part Four. Place is Political: Creating Regional Cultures

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pp. 233-236

Michael Saffle and Patrick Lucas offer case studies of what Edward Watts in the previous section might term colonized regional culture, focusing respectively on music in the Southeast and architecture in the Midwest. Whereas Watts discusses the potential for pluralization in regional analysis, akin to models of cultural study...

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13. State Pieces in the U.S. Regions Puzzle: Nevada and the Problem of Fit

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pp. 237-250

The 1961 classic film The Misfits, starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, was shot in Nevada and features cowboys who are out of place in the modern West. Picking up on the theme of misfit and using Nevada as a case study, this essay explores the notion that individual U.S. states constitute meaningful cultural subregions...

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14. Imagining Place: Nebraska Territory, 1854–1867

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pp. 251-273

Nebraska Territory became a legal entity on May 30, 1854. Politically connected to Kansas Territory by a desperate maneuver to settle the national sectional debate, it emerged as a new field of opportunity for a vibrant and mobile population. The Americans who massed on the Iowa border waiting to take possession of the...

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15. Architecture Crosses Region: Building in the Grecian Style

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pp. 274-291

Much of the work to establish a national identity for the nineteenth-century American nation was accomplished in the trans-Appalachian West, a region that incorporated present-day Kentucky and Tennessee; the Northwest Territory states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and parts of southern Michigan; as well as both Mississippi...

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16. Societies and Soirees: Musical Life and Regional Character in the South Atlantic

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pp. 292-319

Except for a few individuals and events—the activities of Charles Theodor Pachelbel in 1740s Charleston; the presence of the Moravians in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century North Carolina (as well as Pennsylvania); and the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s pop songs of Savannah-born Johnny Mercer—historians have largely ignored...

List of Contributors

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pp. 321-324


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pp. 325-343

E-ISBN-13: 9780803220461
E-ISBN-10: 0803220464

Publication Year: 2009