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  • The Heartland: An American History by Kristin L. Hoganson
  • Jeff Bremer
Kristin L. Hoganson, The Heartland: An American History. New York: Penguin Press, 2019. 432 pp. $30.00 (cloth).

The Midwest has received a lot of attention from coastal political pundits since November 2016, when states such as Michigan and Wisconsin helped to elect Donald Trump as president. Kristin Hoganson's Heartland is an attempt to help explain this region to an academic audience. In her introduction, she explains her surprise at how connected central Illinois was to the world. She arrived in the summer of 1999, moving to the area from the northeastern United States. This unexpected admission nicely sets up the themes of this timely and important book. Heartland's story focuses on Champaign County—home to the University of Illinois where Hoganson teaches—and its long-standing and unexpected connections to the world.

She notes that the Midwest, or "heartland," of the U.S. is at the center of American mythology and nostalgia, as well as at the center of its geography. It is oft en seen as a provincial place that represents the innocence of a lost history; it is supposedly static and insular, mostly defined by the fact it is neither east nor west. However, this conception is wrong. Indeed, the region has always had deep ties to the world. It was full of immigrants [End Page 195] and introduced species, and it was linked economically and socially to the rest of the globe. In fact, the heartland of the 1800s was at the leading edge of American and what many white U.S. residents considered Western civilization. Her chapters trace these ties in a variety of original and deeply researched ways, through lenses ranging from animal breeds to agricultural exports to Native American removal.

Her story begins with one that is too oft en forgotten by many Americans—the removal of Native Americans from their homelands in what is now called the Midwest. In central Illinois, it was the Kickapoo who were forced out. Their villages and fields were burned, and they were expelled by the 1830s. In the book's last chapter, she continues their story into Mexico, where some went in search of refuge. Euro-American farmers replaced the Kickapoo, operating as part of the expanding American empire. Farm families not only brought new grasses, animals, and crops but also changed the face of the countryside, draining thousands of acres of swampland and expanding farms. They improved their hog breeds by bringing in those with pedigrees from Europe that matured faster and tasted better. They also bred potbellied pigs with traits from Chinese breeds. Central Illinois eventually became a pork-exporting powerhouse. Illinois farmers shipped cattle to Canada, viewing the Great Lakes as a connection to their northern neighbor, not a dividing line. They also brought in cattle from Texas and Mexico. Central Illinois farmers pursued overseas agricultural markets avidly, pushing their congressional representatives to ensure access to other nations, even as the U.S. increased its own tariffs.

Illinois was tied to its borderlands, as it was tied to the rest of the globe. In the late nineteenth century, residents of Champaign County could buy soap, spices, silk, and hats from places as varied as Peru, Cuba, and Spain. The Illinois Central Railroad carried bananas and coconuts to the Midwest from New Orleans. Residents of central Illinois also shipped pork to New Zealand and Asia, with almost two billion pounds exported by 1918. The area also depended upon British capital, seeds, and markets to develop. People and experts came to the University of Illinois from Asia and Europe. Conversely, Champaign County residents left to explore the world, returning with new plants and knowledge. The county hosted and trained aviators during World War I, and its military installations connected the region to the rest of the globe. The heart of the country, Hoganson argues, was in the middle of everything, tied to north and south, as well as to east and west.

Heartland succeeds in rejecting the provincial mythology of the [End Page 196] American Midwest by demonstrating its unexpected connections to the rest of the world. Hoganson's task...