U.S. regions have distinct cultural, historical divides

Richard Harris

By A Contributor

This fascinating and provocative book makes the argument that, to truly understand the history of North America since the European colonization, one must identify the 11 “nations,” each of which were founded by different peoples with different cultures and goals.  The basic argument is that these areas continue to be culturally coherent, in spite of all the later immigration and mixing of people with different origins.

The 11 nations, in order of founding, are as follows: El Norte (Southwestern Texas, southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, central New Mexico, southern Colorado, and the northern Mexican states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas); New France (southern Quebec, northeastern New Brunswick, and southern Louisiana); Tidewater (coastal Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware); Yankeedom (New England, upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, northern Pennsylvania, eastern North and South Dakota, and northern Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana); New Netherland (greater New York City and northern New Jersey); Deep South (southeastern North Carolina, most of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, northern and central Florida, eastern Texas, southeast Arkansas, and western Tennessee); Midlands (much of Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ontario, northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, northeast Missouri, eastern Nebraska, eastern, central and southwest Kansas, and northwest Oklahoma); Greater Appalachia (Kentucky, West Virginia, western Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland, southwestern Pennsylvania, northern Alabama and Georgia, southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, central and eastern Oklahoma, central Texas, southeast Kansas, and most of Tennessee); Left Coast (coastal Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and central and northern coastal California); and Far West (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Saskatchewan, Alberta, eastern British Columbia, California, Washington and Oregon, northern Arizona, western New Mexico and MB, most of Colorado, and western North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas).

In addition, he adds one more nation, (“First Nation”), composed of the Canadian province of Nunavut, as well as portions of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Labrador, and Northwest Territories, areas specifically allocated to indigenous peoples.

Woodard begins by talking about the founding of each of the nations and argues that the nature of the original European founders set the tone for development over the next three hundred years.  The example, the Puritan founding of Massachusetts set a precedent of a strong moral framework, and Pennsylvania’s Quaker influence of tolerance continues to characterize the Midlands to this day. Woodard argues that the American Revolution was actually several different revolutions. For example, Yankeedom largely obtained its de facto independence early in the war, while New Netherland remained loyal to Britain and hosted British troops throughout.

The treatment of the Civil War is especially interesting.  Although Tidewater and the Deep South were quite different in many ways — for example in the latter’s much deeper commitment to the institution of slavery — they became reluctant allies, along with much of Greater Appalachia, just as Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Left Coast formed the opposing alliance.

The Midlands, El Norte, the Far West, and sometimes parts of Greater Appalachia held the balance and moved to one camp or the other depending on the issue. Bringing the nations up to the present day, the map look strikingly like the political “red states,” and the “blue states,” with the contested “purple” states being largely in the Midlands (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri).

As each of the original nations of Yankeedom, Midlands, Greater Appalachia, and the Deep South spread westward in the late 18th and 19th centuries, they carried their culture and mindset with them.  Thus today Minnesota and Wisconsin are more like New England, while Arkansas and eastern Texas and more like Georgia and South Carolina.

Woodard’s arguments are provocative and persuasive though not always completely convincing.  Some states have experienced huge and diverse migrations and one wonders if the current character could still so heavily formed by the original settlement group. For example, he divides Kansas (not a state he talks much about specifically) into Midlands (northeast, north central, south central, southwest), Greater Appalachia (southeast) and Far West (northwest).

Oddly missing is Yankeedom, which arguably had a sizable impact from the early New England Abolitionist settlement during the “Bleeding Kansas” period.  Texas is logically split between the Deep South (eastern) and El Norte (south and southwestern) but, less persuasively, with Midlands (far northern panhandle), with the bulk of central and west Texas being part of Greater Appalachia.

The Far West is a fairly neglected nation that may be more a default group of diverse states, which deserve greater treatment that Woodard gives it.  The provocative comments about near-border areas of Mexico and Canada being more like neighboring U.S. regions than like distant parts of their own nations also deserves more discussion. In spite of these limitations, this is a fascinating and provocative book that throws considerable light on otherwise curious cultural differences within our nation.

Richard Harris is a professor of psychology at Kansas State University.

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