The American Midwest: Essays on Regional History

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Andrew R. L. Cayton, Susan E. Gray
Indiana University Press, Sep 28, 2001 - History - 264 pages
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The American MidwestEssays on Regional History

Edited by Andrew R. L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray

Is there a Midwest regional identity? Read this lively exploration of the Midwestern identity crisis and find out.

"Many would say that ordinariness is the Midwest's 'historic burden.' A writer living in Dayton, Ohio recently suggested that dullness is a Midwestern trait. The Midwest lacks grand scenery: 'Just cornfields, silos, prairies, and the occasional hill. Dull.' He tries to put a nice face on Midwestern dullness by saying that Midwesterners '[l]ike Shaker furniture... are plain in the best sense: unadorned.' Others have found Midwestern ordinariness stultifying. Neil LaBute, who makes films about mean and nasty people, said he was negative because he came from Indiana: 'We're brutally honest in Indiana. We realize we're in the middle of nowhere, and we're very sore about it.'" -- from Chapter Five, "Barbecued Kentuckians and Six-Foot Texas Rangers," by Nicole Etcheson.

In a series of often highly personal essays, the authors of The American Midwest -- all of whom are experts on various aspects of Midwestern history -- consider the question of regional identity as a useful way of thinking about the history of the American Midwest. They begin with the assumption that Midwesterners have never been as consciously regional as Western or Southern Americans. They note the peculiar absence of the Midwest from the recent revival of interest in American regionalism among both scholars and journalists. These lively and well-written chapters draw on personal experiences as well as a wide variety of scholarship. This book will stimulate readers into thinking more concretely about what it has meant to be from the Midwest -- and why Midwesterners have traditionally been less assertive about their regional identity than other Americans. It suggests that the best place to find Midwesternness is in the stories the residents of the region have told about themselves and each other.

Being Midwestern is mostly a state of mind. It is always fluid, always contested, always being renegotiated. Even the most frequent objection to the existence of Midwestern identity, the fact that no one can agree on its borders, is part of a larger regional conversation about the ways in which Midwesterners imagine themselves and their relationships with other Americans.

Andrew R. L. Cayton, Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is author of numerous books and articles dealing with the history of the Midwest, including Frontier Indiana (Indiana University Press) and (with Peter S. Onuf) The Midwest and the Nation.

Susan E. Gray, Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University, is author of Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier as well as numerous articles about Midwest history.

Midwestern History and CultureJames H. Madison and Andrew R. L. Cayton, editors

July 2001256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, index, append.cloth 0-253-33941-3 $35.00 s / 26.50

Contents

The Story of the Midwest: An Introduction

Seeing the Midwest with Peripheral Vision: Identities, Narratives, and Region

Liberating Contrivances: Narrative and Identity in Ohio Valley Histories

Pigs in Space, or What Shapes American Regional Cultures?

Barbecued Kentuckians and Six-Foot Texas Rangers: The Construction of Midwestern Identity

Pi-ing the Type: Jane Grey Swisshelm and the Contest of Midwestern Regionality

"The Great Body of the Republic": Abraham Lincoln and the Idea of a Middle West

Stories Written in the Blood: Race, Identity, and the Middle West

The Anti-region: Place and Identity in the History of the American Middle West

Midwestern Distinctiveness

Middleness and the Middle West

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Contents

An Introduction
3
Seeing the Midwest with Peripheral Vision Identities Narratives and Region
29
Liberating Contrivances Narrative and Identity in Midwestern Histories
50
Pigs In Space or What Shapes Americas Regional Cultures?
71
Barbecued Kentuckians and SixFoot Texas Rangers The Construction of Midwestern Identity
80
Piing the Type Jane Grey Swisshelm and the Contest of Midwestern Regionality
93
The Great Body of the Republic Abraham Lincoln and the Idea of a Middle West
113
Stories Written in the Blood Race and Midwestern History
125
The Antiregion Place and Identity in the History of the American Midwest
142
Midwestern Distinctiveness
162
Middleness and the Middle West
182
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Page 56 - One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought. Just at the close of day the gentle gales retired, and left the place to the disposal of a profound calm. Not a breeze shook the most tremulous leaf.
Page 121 - Men with their families -wives, sons, and daughters -work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other.
Page 121 - The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.
Page 66 - That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom —these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.
Page 83 - There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us. Twenty-five years ago I was a hired laborer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account to-day, and will hire others to labor for him to-morrow. Advancement — improvement in condition — is the order of things in a society of equals.
Page 123 - All they ask. we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.
Page 123 - ... speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask- all Republicans desire- in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity.
Page 115 - But there is another difficulty. The great interior region, bounded east by the Alleghanies, north by the British dominions, west by the Rocky mountains, and south by the line along which the culture of corn and cotton meets...
Page 26 - It was not that Chicago segregated Negroes more than the South, but that Chicago had more to offer, that Chicago's physical aspect — noisy, crowded, filled with the sense of power and fulfillment — did so much more to dazzle the mind / \ with a taunting sense of possible achievement) that the segregation it did impose brought forth from Bigger a reaction more obstreperous than in the South.
Page 56 - Two darling sons and a brother have I lost by savage hands, which have also taken from me forty valuable horses, and abundance of cattle. Many dark and sleepless nights have I been a companion for owls, separated from the cheerful society of men, scorched by the summer's sun, and pinched by the winter's cold — an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness.

About the author (2001)

Andrew R. L. Cayton is Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with the history of the Midwest, including Frontier Indiana (1966) and (with Peter S. Onuf) The Midwest and the Nation (1990)

Susan E. Gray is Associate Professor History at Arizona State University. In addition to a number of articles relating to the history of the Midwest, she is the author of Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier.

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