Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Emigration Nation

Take a look at this map of the United States. On this map, demarcate the Midwest. Now look at this map and see how well you did. You just failed a cultural geography quiz.

There is a science to mapping culture. The regions you learned in school blow the dust off of some old geography paradigms, likely pre-Carl Sauer and the Berkeley School. The Midwest region you drew says more about you and where you are from than some objective understanding of American subcultures.

The map I offered up as the standard of US cultural geography comes from Colin Woodard in conjunction with his new book, "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America". Woodard has an article out in the latest The Washington Monthly. I intended to write about the nuanced cultural and political geography detailed, but an unrelated passage piqued my interest:

We’ve never been a nation-state in the European sense; we’re a federation of nations, more akin to the European Union than the Republic of France, and this confounds both collective efforts to find common ground and radical campaigns to force one component nation’s values on the others. Once you recognize the real map (see above), you’ll see its shadow everywhere: in linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologist’s maps of the spread of material culture, cultural geographer’s maps of religious regions, and the famous blue county/red county maps of nearly every hotly contested presidential election of the past two centuries. Understanding America’s true component “nations” is essential to comprehending the Tea Party movement, just as it clarifies the events of the American Revolution or the U.S. Civil War.

Emphasis added. "Real" and "true" are classic terms of cartographic power. I'm not going to get into Michel Foucault or postcolonial theory. Suffice to say, the worldview of the mapmaker is on display. The detail of the US cultural geography is compelling. The map makes sense to me. I take issue with the characterization of France. Woodard makes an assertion that reveals his ignorance of French cultural geography. To him, France is a "real" nation-state.

Graham Robb wrote a book like Woodard's, but about France. The “Discovery of France: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War” is a great read. It explodes the myth of a French nation. Robb also explores how the science of geography is crucial to successful state building. She who makes the map, wields the power.

Our regional divides stem from the fact that the original clusters of North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Islands—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with their own religious, political, and ethnographic characteristics. For generations, these discrete Euro-American cultures developed in remarkable isolation from one another, consolidating their own cherished principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bans. Some championed individualism, others utopian social reform. Some believed themselves guided by divine purpose, others championed freedom of conscience and inquiry. Some embraced an Anglo-Protestant identity, others ethnic and religious pluralism. Some valued equality and democratic participation, others deference to a traditional aristocratic order modeled on the slave states of classical antiquity.

Woodard's worldview of Europe stems from his intimate knowledge of US cultural and political geography. The France he describes is accurate in New World terms. In France, the parochial divisions are obvious. Across the pond, those divisions don't matter. From afar, France the nation-state is more real.

Imagining a national community isn't possible unless you leave the parochial territory. A Penn State student from Pittsburgh will trust other people from "Pittsburgh" more than Penn State students from "Philadelphia". That distinction goes out the window if the two students from either side of Pennsylvania meet in Thailand.

A Pittsburgh Nation or Rust Belt Nation depends on emigration. Those who leave define a new cultural (less parochial) geography. The scale and area of trust expands. The economic ceiling is higher.

That all said, introducing Woodard's "Greater Appalachia":

Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of rough, bellicose settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands, Appalachia has been lampooned by writers and screenwriters as the home of rednecks, hillbillies, crackers, and white trash. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near-constant warfare and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a deep commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. From south-central Pennsylvania, it spread down the Appalachian Mountains and out into the southern tiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks, the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma and on down to the Hill Country of Texas, clashing with Indians, Mexicans, and Yankees along the way. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Appalachia has shifted alliances based on whoever appeared to be the greatest threat to its freedom; since Reconstruction and, especially, the upheavals of the 1960s, it has been in alliance with the Deep South in an effort to undo the federal government’s ability to overrule local preferences.

America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in man’s inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German rather than British majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, but it rejects top-down government intervention. From its cultural hearth in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware and Maryland, Midland culture spread through central Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, northern Missouri, most of Iowa, southern Ontario, and the eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, sharing the border cities of Chicago (with Yankeedom) and St. Louis (with Greater Appalachia).

There is no Great Lakes Nation or Rust Belt Nation or Midwest as Richard Longworth has constructed. Instead, there is New England (Yankeedom or Boston), SE PA (Midlands or Philadelphia), and SW PA (Greater Appalachia or Pittsburgh) occupying what we typically think of as the Midwest. St. Louis is a mix of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Chicago is a mix of Boston and Philadelphia. Cleveland is all three cities rolled into one mistake on the lake.

The "Rust Belt" is culturally and politically complicated. Yet we continue to use the stereotype. The geographic convention lends itself to grandstanding like Rick Parry did last Friday in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is Youngstown is Detroit is Gary, etc ... But if you want to engineer a Rust Belt nation-state, then start your project in Charlotte, North Carolina.

1 comment:

Andy said...

This book looks fascinating. I just placed an ILL request for it.

It sounds similar in its approach & conclusions to David Hackett Fischer's book Albion's Seed, which focused on the links between the 13 colonies and the respective regions in the British Isles that their settlers came from.