The Middle West
Its Meaning in American Culture
James R. Shortridge
It is the "heartland," the home of the average—middle—American. Yet the definition of the Middle West, that most amorphous of regions, is elusive and changing. In historical, cultural, political, literary, and artistic terms the region is variously drawn. It is alternately praised as a pastoral oasis and damned as a cultural backwater, fostering wholesome pragmatism and crass materialism, home to people at once resilient and embittered, hardworking and complacent. From Willa Cather to Sherwood Anderson, from The Wizard of Oz to The Music Man, images of the Middle West are powerful and contradictory.
In this thoughtful book, cultural geographer James R. Shortridge offers a historical probe into the "idea" of the Middle West. By exploring what this term originally meant and how it has changed over the past 150 years, he presents a fascinating look at the question of regional identity and its place in the collective consciousness. A work of unconventional geography based on extensive research in popular literature, this volume examines meaning, essence, character—the important intangibles of place not captured by statistical studies—and explores the intimate connections between the notion of pastoralism and the definition of the Middle West.
“Visualize the Middle West. What do you see? Amber waves of grain? America’s Dairyland? Lake Wobegon? Shortridge, a cultural geographer, defines the Middle West through a sense of place. He writes in a lively style and effectively integrates culture, climate, economy, and symbol. This book should interest any Middle Westerner, even a transplanted one.”
“This book is the most noteworthy treatment of the American Middle West produced to date by a geographer or, to the best of my knowledge, by any other breed of scholar. . . . [It is] required reading not only for persons with a certain regional predisposition but also for anyone wrestling with the deeper mysteries of American culture as a whole.”
—Geographical ReviewSee all reviews...
“The Midwest . . . is a common but elusive regional label. Moreover, as James Shortridge demonstrates in this excellent book, it is a concept with a fascinating history and a controversial, provocative present existence. . . . Readers interested in virtually any aspect of the Midwest-popular culture, intellectual, cultural, and social history, American Studies and literature, sociology, economics-are likely to find something here to pique approval or argument. . . . This book is extremely stimulating. The topic itself was an inspiration.”
“The Middle West is not just a place, it's an idea—a necessary fiction for the American psyche. Shortridge offers a unique and fascinating look at its meaning, essence, and character.”
“Absorbing, . . . lucid, imaginative, and evocative.”
—Annals of Iowa
“Informative and entertaining. . . . A valuable contribution to the literature of American regionalism.”
“All readers should find much in this book to enjoy. . . . Its nontraditional approach will be of continuing interest to scholars who are seeking a fresh look at regional exposition.”
—Gateway Heritage, Missouri Historical Society
“There is nothing like this book in print . . . nor anyone as capable of doing as good a job as Shortridge.”
—Peirce Lewis, author of New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape
“I put this book down thoroughly delighted. Any way you slice it, this is a swell theme, and Shortridge does a highly satisfying job.”
—James R. Parsons, University of California, Berkeley, past president of the Association of American GeographersSee fewer reviews...