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  • IntroductionMiddle West Review and the Middle Ground
  • Jon K. Lauck

Much of this issue of Middle West Review was assembled and edited during the early and intense months of the great pandemic of 2020, a moment that has greatly elevated the instabilities and unknowns and general anxieties in all our lives. At the same time protests broke out in various parts of the country because of the George Floyd case in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Concurrently, concerns mounted about the commitment to free speech and open debate in our country and the health and thoughtfulness of our political and cultural discourse. All of these events and worries reinforce the importance of our mission at Middle West Review.

In a time of turmoil and doubt, it is important to remember our prime directive as a journal, which is to examine the history, culture, and overall meaning of the American Midwest, the nation's most understudied region. This mission includes studying how the Midwest emerged as a place with a regional consciousness, a topic critical to a journal focused on understanding a particular geographic location.1 For this issue we asked several scholars and writers to take up the question of regional identity anew and reflect on the Midwest and its meanings. One of the participants, the art historian Jason Weems, who is from Iowa but teaches at the University of California, Riverside, linked his reflections to the image that graces our cover. This image, titled "Time Builds Soil. Profile of a virgin field in North Dakota," is an old soil conservation photograph from the 1930s that features several feet of vertical earth. It connotes the depth of midwestern consciousness and identity that many people fail to see or comprehend. It symbolizes our need to reflect on the deep roots of the midwestern past and the dangers of not doing so, lest the forces of cultural erosion erase the Midwest from our collective memory and scholarly accounts.

The first essay in our symposium on Midwestern regionalism was written by the distinguished historian of the Midwest, Terry A. Barnhart of Eastern Illinois University. Terry received his PhD at Miami University in Ohio, where so much Midwestern history was taught by Andrew Cayton, [End Page ix] and focused most of his career on the early stages of Midwestern regionalism. We regret to report that in the final stages of preparation of this issue Terry passed. In his honor, his essay is printed first in our symposium.

Given the events in Minneapolis earlier this year and the resulting nationwide protests, we must always remember to study all aspects of the Midwest's history and culture. To that end, we are happy to announce that our Spring 2021 issue will focus on the African American Midwest and will be edited by the historian of African American history Brie Arnold, a professor at Coe College in Iowa. The articles in the spring issue will focus, in particular, on the diverse experiences of the African Americans who migrated from the South to the Midwest, making a major regional transition and in the process revealing the depth of regional differences and the importance of regional studies. This special issue of Middle West Review will also feature some specific reflections on the history of race and Minneapolis by William Green, a professor of history at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. In the same issue, Professor Green's books on race and Minnesota will be discussed by Jacob Bruggeman.2 Finally, this special issue will feature an extended review of a new book on the African American Midwest published by Belt Publishing.3 This book stemmed from a major conference on the Midwest and race, which was held at the University of Minnesota in 2019.

The currently intense discussion about free speech and cancel culture also provides us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to robust and open debate about the history and meaning of the Midwest. Given the wide discussion of the popular historian David McCullough's new book on early Ohio, we are presenting a symposium in this issue focused on the book. Seven scholars examine The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (2019) and...