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Remaking the Heartland

Middle America since the 1950s

Robert Wuthnow

Publication Year: 2010

For many Americans, the Midwest is a vast unknown. In Remaking the Heartland, Robert Wuthnow sets out to rectify this. He shows how the region has undergone extraordinary social transformations over the past half-century and proven itself surprisingly resilient in the face of such hardships as the Great Depression and the movement of residents to other parts of the country. He examines the heartland's reinvention throughout the decades and traces the social and economic factors that have helped it to survive and prosper.

Wuthnow points to the critical strength of the region's social institutions established between 1870 and 1950--the market towns, farmsteads, one-room schoolhouses, townships, rural cooperatives, and manufacturing centers that have adapted with the changing times. He focuses on farmers' struggles to recover from the Great Depression well into the 1950s, the cultural redefinition and modernization of the region's image that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, the growth of secondary and higher education, the decline of small towns, the redeployment of agribusiness, and the rapid expansion of edge cities. Drawing his arguments from extensive interviews and evidence from the towns and counties of the Midwest, Wuthnow provides a unique perspective as both an objective observer and someone who grew up there.

Remaking the Heartland offers an accessible look at the humble yet strong foundations that have allowed the region to endure undiminished.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Table of Contents, Copyright

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pp. iv-vi

List of Tables

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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xiii

It may have been that cold windy morning in central Nebraska when I pulled off the highway to watch the sun rise, golden red, across the open fields. That may have been the day I decided to write this book. Or it may have been another day, when I was driving through small towns in eastern Iowa. That moment, perhaps, when a highway marker reminded me of my childhood home. Or it ...

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pp. 1-6

During the half century that began in the 1950s, the American Middle West— Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Arkansas, and Oklahoma—underwent a dramatic social transformation. The region’s population grew at only half the national rate. More than three thousand towns declined. Agriculture suffered from adverse weather and wild market fluctuations ...

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Chapter One: Here in the Middle

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pp. 7-21

Here in Smith County, at the exact geographic middle of the United States, there is a sense of timeless tranquility that can be deceptively seductive. Above the small stone monument that local citizens erected on April 25, 1941, to mark the site, an American flag waves serenely in the Kansas breeze. At one side, a few trees planted on that occasion shade a picnic table and a small white prayer ...

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Chapter Two: Recovering from the Great Depression

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pp. 22-56

The Great Depression was something Americans hoped they would never experience again. In the rural Midwest, foreclosures and sheriff’s auctions were common. Farmers postponed purchasing tractors and combines long after they became available because there was no way to afford them. Electric lights and indoor plumbing were present in towns but did not extend to the surrounding ...

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Chapter Three: Reinventing the Rustic Life

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pp. 57-91

Historian David B. Danbom observes in Born in the Country that generations of Americans who lived on farms and in rural communities grew up hearing that they were residentially deficient. They learned from journalists, writers, and even educators that country folk lacked sophistication, opportunities, and intelligence. Geography kept otherwise well-meaning people from exercising ...

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Chapter Four: Education in Middle America

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pp. 92-125

It was 1972, and Iowa had just implemented legislation to improve funding for rural school districts. Susan McAlister, a junior in high school that year, was contemplating her future. The country school she had attended through eighth grade was like a second home. The twenty farm families who lived nearby gathered monthly for fried chicken and homemade pie. The men played cards by the ...

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Chapter Five: The Decline of Small Communities

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pp. 126-170

The snow is finally melting in this west Nebraska town of two hundred people. But it has been a difficult winter. More than forty-two inches fell, twice the annual average, causing fuel bills to rise and discouraging residents from venturing outside. On mornings with the windchill below zero, farmers bundled their children in heavy coats and drove them by tractor to meet the school bus. ...

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Chapter Six: The Changing Face of Agribusiness

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pp. 171-213

Juana was ten the year she started first grade in southwest Kansas. She could not read or write in any language. She spoke no English and had never been to school. Her family was from a small village in central Mexico. They came on temporary work permits that had to be renewed each year. Juana attended parochial school and during the summers went to classes for migrant workers’ ...

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Chapter Seven:From Towns to Sprawling Suburbs

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pp. 214-253

When Joyce Coker-Dreier and her husband moved to their Middle Western town in the early 1970s, the community had a population of about 20,000 and the feel of a small place where people still knew each other, shopped at the same stores, and congregated downtown on Saturday evenings. Three decades later, the population exceeded 100,000 and seemed to have fanned out in all directions. She ...

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pp. 254-260

Down the sanded country road, past an overgrown hedge row and an unused pasture, just beyond a small rise a quarter of a mile from where I grew up, stands an abandoned farmhouse owned by our closest neighbors, the Morganfields, before they retired in the late 1950s. The shabby frame house, nearly obscured by tall prairie grass and weeds, has turned a weathered gray. None of ...


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pp. 261-284


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pp. 285-334

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 335-348


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pp. 349-358

E-ISBN-13: 9781400836246
E-ISBN-10: 1400836247
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691158020
Print-ISBN-10: 0691158029

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Course Book