Heartland: Comparative Histories of the Midwestern States ed. by James H. Madison, and: The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture by James R. Shortridge (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 1991
- pp. 83-84
- Additional Information
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Reviews 83 Heartland: Comparative Histories of the Midwestern States. Edited by James H. Madison. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. 308 pages, $40.00/ $12.95.) The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture. By James R. Shortridge. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989. 201 pages, $25.00.) James Shortridge, in The Middle West, and the authors of the essays in Heartland provide scholars of western and Great Plains literature with some useful information and insights; however, both works insist on including the plains states in a region that includes the industrial Great Lakes states. Although Heartland is titled a “comparative” history, readers must make most of the connections for themselves. “Repetitive” might be a more accurate term, a result of the independent nature of each essay and the obligation to cover certain similar features in each state. But, as one reads through the volume, the differences become even more apparent as the reader compares the histories of the eastern states in the region, where the emphasis is on indus try and urban development, with the plains states’ histories, where the emphasis is on adjustment to an unfamiliar environment and the persistence of agrarian issues and ideals. For the Great Plains scholar, Frederick Luebke’s essay on Nebraska, focused on the “interplay of culture with environment over time,” is especially useful. Herbert T. Hoover’s essay on South Dakota slights the history of white settlement, but his emphasis on the Indian’s continuing role in Great Plains culture is a necessary reminder, and David B. Danbom’s essay on North Dakota focuses on the failure of North Dakota (and, indeed, the entire Great Plains) to fulfill the mythic promise of the land. The quality of the essays in Madison’s volume is uneven. The Kansas essay is the weakest, a disappointment for Kansas scholars. Read as a companion volume to Heartland, Shortridge’s attempt to define the term “Middle West” should convince readers that there is such a place— and that it is hard to define. Shortridge is hard pressed to sustain his thesis— that the Middle West is a unified and distinct region that encompasses all twelve states from Ohio to Kansas and north. In addition to his geographical definition, he equates the region with the idea of pastoralism, tracing changes in perception of the heart of the region (and, indeed, the nation) as the frontier moved west. Shortridge traces changes in historical attitudes toward the region, using newspapers and other popular literature as his sources. To ascertain contem porary concepts of the region, he uses cognitive maps, asking students from various geographic areas to identify the “Middle West” on a map. While both methods yield interesting information, they are not necessarily compatible or entirely convincing. The literary scholar will be most interested in Shortridge’s sources. His reliance upon popular literature as his primary resource for nineteenth-century references to the region, with a few very selective references to the literature produced in the region itself, may be appropriate for his historical-survey 84 Western American Literature approach, but the portrait of the region that emerges is very different from the more complex literary picture developed over time. Shortridge describes the industrialized eastern area as in a kind of limbo, geographically a part of the “Middle West,” but conceptually something else, while the Great Plains is perceptually the region’s core, but Iowa matches the region’s “defining cultural traits.” Still, Shortridge insists that there is a Middle West, and that the Great Plains is a geographical sub-set of this region. Despite these shortcomings, both of these volumes are valuable additions to regional studies. DIANE DUFVA QUANTIG Wichita State University Yosemite, The Embattled Wilderness. By Alfred Runte. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. 271 pages, $24.95.) Yosemite, The Embattled Wilderness is a clearly written, cogently argued Protestant version of Yosemite’s political and environmental history. Runte posits an original Wilderness and narrates its Fall into City by virtue of a con sistent preference, exhibited by those whose responsibility it is to govern the Park, for use over resource. According to him, Yosemite has had its Elijahs prophesying preservation and its Ahabs worshipping the alien god of Mammon...