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.”

Milwaukee Journal

“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 Review
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