The Revival of Midwestern History

Midwest

Jon Lauck of the University of South Dakota is one of the growing number of scholars trying to bring back the history of Midwest.  Check out his books:

From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965

The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History

(edited with Gleaves Whitney and Joseph Hogan), Finding a New Midwestern History

Prairie republic: The Political Culture of Dakota Territory, 1879-1889

Over at Perspectives on History, Kritika Agarwal reflects on this subfield.  Here is a taste:

“All of a sudden,” says Jon Lauck, professor of history at the University of South Dakota and past president of the Midwestern History Association (MHA), “people wanted to know why these swing counties around Milwaukee” and states like “Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa . . . went for Trump.” But for Lauck and other historians of the Midwest, the 2016 election was hardly surprising. The Midwest, a growing group of scholars says, is an enormously important region—historically, politically, socially, and culturally. And “if you understood that history,” says Edward Frantz (Univ. of Indianapolis), “you would not have been as shocked in early November 2016 as many of the people elsewhere were.”

The region, as the website of the MHA will tell you, “has suffered from decades of neglect and inattention,” both within and outside of academia. As the introduction of Finding a New Midwestern History(eds. Lauck, Joseph Hogan, and Gleaves Whitney, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2018) states, “In comparison to such regions as the South, the Far West, and New England, the Midwest and its culture—the history of its people and places; its literature, music, and art; the complexity and richness of its landscapes—has been neglected.” Yet Midwestern history isn’t entirely new.

The earliest historian to pay attention to the region was none other than Frederick Jackson Turner, who in the late 19th century published several essays on “the Middle West.” His work became foundational for a group of scholars whom Lauck dubs the Prairie Historians. Most of them were born in the region; as Lauck writes, they “developed a pattern of thought and a network of personalities, affiliations, and institutions that congealed into an early twentieth-century movement to advance the cause of studying the history of the prairie Midwest.” With an intense commitment to state and local history, the Prairie Historians focused on topics such as colonial settlement, the social and ethnic history of the Midwest, the development of American democracy and populism in the region, and agricultural and rural history.

Read the rest here.

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