We Mapped ‘the Midwest’ for You, So Stop Arguing
August 30, 2019 8:08 AM   Subscribe

 
At least 5% said Rhode Island is in the Midwest? Rhode Island???? Based on the format it was probably "Providence", so hopefully that was just confusion about where that was. That would be less alarming than the idea that the Midwest includes southern New England.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


“This should be interesting.”
*looks at map*
“... yes. That’s the midwest.”
posted by gauche at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2019 [16 favorites]


There appear to be people who think Memphis is... Midwestern. Okay then.

Maybe the people surveyed thought they were being asked whether they, personally, were from the Midwest?
posted by asperity at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


Interesting. Having been raised in the Midwest, the map conforms to my prior notions of its boundaries, and the map shows it to be rather small. When you're actually in it, living, it feels like the largest place on earth, almost inescapably large. Awesome post, thanks!
posted by riverlife at 8:23 AM on August 30, 2019 [10 favorites]


vibratory manner of working: At least 5% said Rhode Island is in the Midwest? Rhode Island????

I bet it’s the folks out in Wyoming.
posted by Kattullus at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


538 also did this a while back (though at a state rather than zip-code level).

If you don't want to drill down further than the state level, I'd probably mark the Midwest as Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.

While Buffalo and Erie, PA are Rust Belt cities, that's not enough to make New York and Pennsylvania midwestern states. You can't be one of the thirteen colonies and also be in the Midwest.

The Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska are part of the Great Plains, while Kentucky and West Virginia are part of Appalachia. Of course, not even the Census Bureau agrees with me.
posted by box at 8:26 AM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


If you have a "Great Plains" then it seems obvious to put Nebraska there, but I hear basically zero people in Nebraska refer to that as being a thing. Is the Rust Belt a region the same way the others are or a separate economic designation? What's interesting to me is that I basically moved from the far east side of the Midwest to the west side, and having done that, I think this map works for me--I think Omaha is economically doing way better than Cleveland and the weather is marginally different but that overall it was not a shocking change for me.

I think the only place I substantially differ from this is that I'm not sure about the rest of Oklahoma, but I definitely think of OKC as more midwestern than southern.
posted by Sequence at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Minnesota is Midwest only if there's no North, I mean International Falls as Midwest? Heck, even having the Great Lakes as a region makes the Midwest a different kinda thing. I'd be okay with part of Minnesota being Midwest though, if you get away from the state boundary concept.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2019


I grew up in Illinois, and I wouldn’t’ve classified Minnesota as Midwest...I don’t know what I think it is, but somehow in my mental map it’s too far north to be Midwest (and Buffalo and Pittsburgh are too far east). I do like the survey approach of “tell us your zip code and if you think you live in the Midwest”.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:33 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


The 5% and below areas are mostly wrong (yeah, Dallas is kind of the far southern tip to the midwest) but every thing 20% and above seems right to me. I'd change that from 20-50% category (really?) to 40-50% personally and go from there.

The Great Plains and the Midwest are synonyms. There is no north central USA, only north east and north west.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Finally, we can bring peace to the middle west.
posted by TheHuntForBlueMonday at 8:36 AM on August 30, 2019 [13 favorites]


A state level map is not very useful for states like Kansas where there is a lot of demographic and geographical shift across the state. This map aligns with my expectations and it seems only fair to let self-identification drive this, the most assimilatory of American memberships.
posted by q*ben at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Midwest is simply too broad a term but we hang onto it desperately because it functions as political shorthand for "real America"
posted by Ferreous at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


having the Great Lakes as a region makes the Midwest a different kinda thing

The Midwest and the Great Lakes are overlapping regions in most anybody's definition I've heard.
posted by atoxyl at 8:46 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


This does not at all solve my questions about how I should identify as a Pittsburgher.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Pseudo Appalachian rust belter
posted by Ferreous at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Colin Woodard's controversial book about 11 separate nations of the US mostly does away with the idea of the Midwest. He groups most of what this map shows as "midwest" in with New England, based on shared trade and industrialization history. Then there's this sort of "the leftover bits" region called The Midlands that stands in for the rest of the midwest. It's not very convincing just looking at the map, but if you read the book he has compelling historical and cultural reasons for the divisions.

To me St. Louis is the absolute capital of the mid-West, even more than Chicago.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


Finally, we can bring peace to the middle west.

A New Yorker would have brought pizza.
posted by srboisvert at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


Iowa is the midwest. Any other place can only be midwest-adjacent, at best.
posted by Caxton1476 at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Interesting. Having been raised in the Midwest, the map conforms to my prior notions of its boundaries, and the map shows it to be rather small. When you're actually in it, living, it feels like the largest place on earth, almost inescapably large. Awesome post, thanks!
posted by riverlife


Extremely true on all counts!

Minnesota is Midwest only if there's no North, I mean International Falls as Midwest? Heck, even having the Great Lakes as a region makes the Midwest a different kinda thing. I'd be okay with part of Minnesota being Midwest though, if you get away from the state boundary concept.
posted by gusottertrout


I could see mmmmaybe making a cutoff for the great northern forest areas, but MN farm country and the Twin Cities are extremely over-the-top none-more-midwest midwest.
posted by COBRA! at 9:10 AM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


I've had long discussions about whether North Dakota/Minnesota qualifies as the Midwest with people from Illinois, so of interest.
posted by typecloud at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2019


I like the notion of "the midwest" not being contained by state lines. That means the aspirational midwesterners in Fayetteville, Arkansas, can still claim that identity without making everyone else in the state roll their eyes. Although, LOL at those few folks in the Memphis metro tri-state region who say the same thing. THAT is kinda funny to me. You do you, folks.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2019


The Midwest and the Great Lakes are overlapping regions in most anybody's definition I've heard.

Eh. Depends on who's setting the definitions. There's certainly some interchangeability depending on context, but if made to pick one the context matters. To most people I've heard from outside Minnesota, for example, Minnesota is the North, while for Minnesotans, who like to pretend the cold weather and snow isn't really a big thing except when they talk about their cabins on the lake, up north. The Twin Cities call themselves Midwest but think of Brainerd and Duluth as the North, but population density shouldn't determine geographic definition.

A Great Lakes region seems to overlap the Midwest because the definitions drift between narrower, where there are only South, North East, Midwest, West, Southwest and Northwest, to more context or landscape dependent conversation that call for different designations, like North, Great Lakes, Pacific Northwest, Mountain, and Plain states. In that latter sense states can have more than one identity and are often claimed as such, but without necessarily meaning the whole state. The Great Lakes region, wouldn't, for example, include Iowa or Missouri or Nebraska, so it can't be the same as the Midwest, which means the definitions fluctuate by need of use.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


How do y'all feel about using the Wisconsin Glacial Episode as the boundaries of the Midwest? I kind of like the way it divides flat from not-flat, except that this definition would leave southern Indiana out of the Midwest and that's just not appropriate. It has nowhere else to go.
posted by asperity at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


To me St. Louis is the absolute capital of the mid-West, even more than Chicago.

I'm kind of on the fence about St. Louis. It doesn't feel like you can simultaneously have a signature barbecue style and be part of the midwest.

As long as we're arguing about geography, where does the south begin? What's the northernmost 'Southern city'?, and sorry, your state is not Southern.
posted by box at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


The Great Lakes region, wouldn't, for example, include Iowa or Missouri or Nebraska

I think you're responding to two different people but I for one didn't mean they were the same, I meant they were overlapping. Chicago is in both. St. Louis is only in one.
posted by atoxyl at 9:22 AM on August 30, 2019


Centre County in Pennsylvania is the midwest? Oh man, this....this is funny
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:22 AM on August 30, 2019


It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly Atlantic centric American terminology is. I live in "the West", but it isn't actually on the western side of the map because back when "the west" was being defined they meant basically anything more than five meters west of the Atlantic coast when they said "the west".

So we get the absurdity that Texas is in "the west", but actual places on the western side of America are "Pacific" because the term west was already grabbed for places not even remotely on the western side of the country.

If you took a person who had no idea about America's weird nomenclature, sat them down with a map, and explained that in the USA there was a region called the midwest then asked them to guess roughly where that would be, I'm pretty sure most would pick either northern California and Oregon, since it's roughly at the midline of the map and on the western coast, or maybe an area around Nevada, Utah, and Idaho since it's sort of at the middle of the western part of the country.

No one would possibly guess it's an area on the northeastern sector of the map often barely a few hundred miles from the east coast.

Not being from the midwest, I always assumed it extended a lot further west and included at least the totality of the Dakotas and some of eastern (?!?!) Montana as well.
posted by sotonohito at 9:24 AM on August 30, 2019 [15 favorites]


The comments on the 2014 FiveThirtyEight article linked both in the article and in the comments here seem to have disappeared, but if you can view them, you'll see I left a comment at the time proposing this exact methodology.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2019


I think you're responding to two different people but I for one didn't mean they were the same, I meant they were overlapping. Chicago is in both.

Yeah, I was, sorry for any confusion there. I don't disagree with them overlapping, just that I think the overlap comes from applying different concepts that can't actually be applied simultaneously, which means there are differing "maps" of the US used to fit differing needs that can be contradictory when thrown together.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:27 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


> "We Mapped ‘the Midwest’ for You, So Stop Arguing"

no
posted by kyrademon at 9:27 AM on August 30, 2019 [22 favorites]


West river South Dakota is for sure Great Plains, and east river South Dakota seems to split at around Watertown/Webster/Waubay into a northeastern portion that's more like southern/western Minnesota and a southeastern portion that's 100% Midwest. The unforested glacial lakes region of Minnesota and surrounding states, southwest of the MN/MI/WI Northwoods, is really a distinct thing culturally. And Northwoods is distinct from the unforested Great Lakes region.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:33 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Eh? I'm from Boston . Anything west of I-95 (128 to you old-timers in the know) is the midwest. As soon as you get west of Worcester, you might as well be on the Pacific coast.
posted by Mayor West at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Fwiw, Great Lakes also applies to parts of Ontario that most Canadians consider "Eastern", but not "Down East".
posted by TheHuntForBlueMonday at 9:34 AM on August 30, 2019


"Rhode Island is in the Midwest?"

People in New England do not comprehend that land exists west of the Hudson River. RI has parts of New England to the east, and parts to the west, and therefore it's the middle.

"You can't be one of the thirteen colonies and also be in the Midwest"

You absolutely can, which is why the article is using zip code-level data instead of state-level. States are too large to classify in a single region, even small states like Connecticut.

"it functions as political shorthand for 'real America'"

This is a relic of WWI, when the overwhelmingly German-American population of the region wanted to dissociate itself from the enemy and assuage doubts about their dedication to "our" side.

"how I should identify as a Pittsburgher"

This should answer your question.

"St. Louis is the absolute capital of the mid-West"

St. Louis is the South. If you don't agree, I bet I can guess your race.

"leave southern Indiana out of the Midwest"

Except for Bloomington, I think that's reasonable. Columbus is still included.

"Centre County in Pennsylvania is the midwest"

Home to a Big Ten university, which used to be one way of defining the midwest.

"how incredibly Atlantic centric American terminology is"

This is also a function of history. By the time Oklahoma City was settled, people had been living in Massachusetts and Virginia for 250 years.

"some of eastern (?!?!) Montana as well"

There's a case to be made there.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:37 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


If your state touches Lakes Michigan or Superior, you live in the Midwest.

The rest of you, I don't know what or frankly, where you are...

(scuttles back into his icewater mansion to enjoy the hullabaloo)
posted by Chrischris at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of on the fence about St. Louis. It doesn't feel like you can simultaneously have a signature barbecue style and be part of the midwest.

Then what's Kansas City?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


This one I came across on Reddit is for sure not perfect and gets some important things wrong but much closer to the regions of the US as I've experienced them, where "Midwest" is waaaay too big of a category.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


If your state had a school in the Big Ten at any time that there were only 10 schools in the Big Ten, then you are in the Midwest.

If your state was claimed by the Confederacy (or was part of one that was), then you are not Midwest.

If your state is not qualified or disqualified by either of these, but shares a land border with a state that does qualify, and has no FBS schools, then you are in the Midwest.

Otherwise, we will take your application under advisement, but will keep an eye on you.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


i came here to say what sotonohito said but less eloquently and with more Pacific bias (y’all east of mid-montana and north of new mexico are the midwest, until ???)
posted by zinful at 9:48 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why is the midwest neither mid nor west?

It's like the upper right east.
posted by fnerg at 9:49 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly Atlantic centric American terminology is. I live in "the West", but it isn't actually on the western side of the map because back when "the west" was being defined they meant basically anything more than five meters west of the Atlantic coast when they said "the west".

So we get the absurdity that Texas is in "the west", but actual places on the western side of America are "Pacific" because the term west was already grabbed for places not even remotely on the western side of the country.
Growing up in a western state, my family would have considered Wyoming and Colorado part of "The West." Everything else from this survey (including Texas) was "Back East."
posted by eckeric at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nothing pisses off a Pittsburgher more than saying their city is in the Midwest but having grown up in the NJ/NY area, I find it really hard to think of this place as an Eastern city. I mean beyond the fact that you can't get a decent slice of pizza or a good bagel here, the attitude and pace of city life feels so different from the east coast.
posted by octothorpe at 9:57 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you or people around you have hot dish and bars at family reunions AND you're in or surrounded by a majority "pop" region you're vaguely in the Midwest or, in outlying cases, on what's diplomatically Midwestern soil as part of some cultural embassy.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:58 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


My family still thinks of me as the brother that moved "out west". I pretty much have to get married or graduate for them to make the journey across PA to visit me.
posted by octothorpe at 10:00 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Another key to the Midwest, do people around you enjoy hamburger as a pizza topping? First of all I'm sorry, I share this pain, second, you're possibly in the Midwest.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:01 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Southern Indiana is like Southern Illinois - the south. At least the part of the south that Kentucky belongs to.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


if you poke someone with a pin like a witchfinder and they bleed ranch dressing then you are in the midwest
posted by poffin boffin at 10:08 AM on August 30, 2019 [26 favorites]


I'm from Toronto, which if it was in the States would be part of the Midwest. I remember regular road trips to Cincinnati, Detroit and Buffalo when I was a kid, and they all felt very similar to Toronto at the time (now not so much). To me Midwest maps almost directly onto the Great Lakes in that if traditionally the majority of your area's trade flows through a Great Lakes port then you're Midwest. I don't know what that means for Iowa and on a city level St. Louis.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:12 AM on August 30, 2019


I don't think Oklahoma should be considered a part of the Midwest. It has a very different history from those that are thought of as Midwestern states.
posted by Quonab at 10:20 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Growing up in a western state, my family would have considered Wyoming and Colorado part of "The West.

I think a lot of us from the unambiguous West secretly like the Northeast-centric geographic divisions, because it means we also get to act like we are completely our own thing.

(Of course in CA there's a different level to that. Or Texas, which gets out of arguments about whether it's the Southwest or the South by being Texas.)
posted by atoxyl at 10:29 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


St. Louis is the South. If you don't agree, I bet I can guess your race.

St. Louis is racist, but that doesn't make it part of the South.

I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida which also isn't the South culturally, but is also pretty racist. Then I moved to St. Louis. They're strikingly similar in a lot of ways and different enough for it to have felt weird. But neither is anything like Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. The rest of Missouri though *is* more like the South, only substitute Catholics for Baptists.
posted by Foosnark at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Echoing those who've said that southern Indiana is definitely not the midwest. For good or ill (mostly ill) it has inherited a lot of cultural baggage from Kentucky.

I am also reminded of a joke often told of Indiana wherein it is described as "the middle finger of the south pointing up into the union." Lived experience confirms this.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 10:43 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


The local media in Memphis refers to that region as the "Mid-South" (or at least they did when I was there for a few weeks in 2007). Is that view widely shared?
posted by theory at 10:44 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Midwest is the old Northwest Territory. Period.

Okay, maybe plus the rest of Minnesota.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:48 AM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ctrl-F Oklahoma...
Yeah, I never square OK being Midwest only because I am from Wisconsin, but my Dad grew up in OK. My parents insist it's not "The South" but it's not the MW to me. They insist it's "midwest". Regardless of what it is, they refuse to call it "The South" (I guess they think of "AL, LA, GA, MS" as "The South" - but htat's just "Deep South". South is anything Virginia, W Va, Carolinas, GA, FL, MS, LA, TX, OK, AR, TN...

Missouri is midwest but just barely. And parts of Southern Illinois or South of Ohio or Indiana don't really count as "Midwest" to me. But northern parts do.
posted by symbioid at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I assume the people in Memphis saw “mid” and clicked “yes”.

The Southern city that’s farthest north is probably Baltimore or Washington.

The Northern city that’s farthest south is Miami.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also, both Big (x) Conferences are the Midwest. Big 10 is the upper Midwest, Big 8 is the, uh, other Midwest.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:54 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Building on the comments about the historically contingent nature of Midwesternness, it seems like city/country divides are increasingly coming to predominate over regional distinctions in ways that make the "Midwest" category untenable. E.g. many of the cities of the Midwest increasingly form a distinct linguistic unit from the surrounding rural areas. The features of "Midwestern" rural geography and heritage that make e.g. the Platte valley in Nebraska or the Finger Lakes in New York seem quasi-Midwestern are increasingly invisible/irrelevant to many of the people who call formerly-Midwestern cities home (and indeed are increasingly disappearing entirely unless propped up by a local quaintness industry), and meanwhile generic Southern-derived cultural trappings like country music have for generations been crowding out regional culture in formerly-Midwestern rural areas.

The steady growth of neo-Confederate sentiment in many rural areas that were once the lifeblood of the Union -- see e.g. a certain Iowa rep -- is of course among the uglier manifestations of this, although I'm not sure to what extent it represents something really new.
posted by shenderson at 10:54 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


>The Northern city that’s farthest south is Miami.

I grew up in Minnesota and went to school in Wisconsin, but one of the most Midwestern places I've ever been is in Florida around Fort Meyers and Naples.
posted by theory at 10:57 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


The steady growth of neo-Confederate sentiment in many rural areas that were once the lifeblood of the Union -- see e.g. a certain Iowa rep -- is of course among the uglier manifestations of this, although I'm not sure to what extent it represents something really new.

A new co-worker moved to Lansing from the DC area, and asked me yesterday, "What's with all the Confederate flags? Wasn't Michigan firmly in the Union?" I replied, "Well... you already know why, right?" She just nodded.
posted by Etrigan at 11:09 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


Wichita resident reporting in to say that while we are definitely located within the Great Plains, basically nobody uses that as an identifier. We consider ourselves midwesterners. I think the I-35 corridor connecting OKC, Wichita, and Kansas City to the areas you're describing as midwestern is a major contributing factor; we have no strong association to Nebraska, for example. I definitely agree that this ZIP code approach works better than trying to identify whole states as midwestern or not.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you took a person who had no idea about America's weird nomenclature, sat them down with a map, and explained that in the USA there was a region called the midwest then asked them to guess roughly where that would be, I'm pretty sure most would pick either northern California and Oregon, since it's roughly at the midline of the map and on the western coast, or maybe an area around Nevada, Utah, and Idaho since it's sort of at the middle of the western part of the country.

....why? The axis of geography of the United States is east-west. "Midwest" is a shortened form of "Middle West" and has been used to describe the central part of the country since at least the 1890s.

It's similar to how the Midlands in England are... in the middle on a north-south axis, because England is longer than it is wide. There's no great mystery here.
posted by Automocar at 11:18 AM on August 30, 2019


My favorite author weighs in on one border:
I spent the day in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, answering, at least to my own satisfaction, the question about where the Midwest begins. Its eastern edge would seem to me to be Columbus, Ohio, after which the great cornfields appear and continue all the way to St. Louis. Eastern Ohio still has the look of Appalachia, with narrow frame houses on steep hillsides, but after Columbus there are no hillsides, just the flat midwestern plain.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:23 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


Automocar Even by that idea you'd still put the "midwest" somewhere on the western side of the map, not on the eastern side.

Draw a vertical line right down the center of the USA and most of the area defined as the midwest will be east of that line, not west of it.
posted by sotonohito at 11:30 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Automocar - I think part of the disconnect for people who are unfamiliar with the history of the term comes from the fact that the bulk of what is considered the 'Midwest' is in the eastern half of the country. A term like 'Mideast' would probably make more sense to such people (and I've met many of them).
posted by theory at 11:36 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I grew up in Minnesota and went to school in Wisconsin, but one of the most Midwestern places I've ever been is in Florida around Fort Meyers and Naples.
posted by theory at 10:57 AM on August 30 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Yeah, we colonized that area a long time ago. I was initially surprised to see many of the same, basically local businesses both there and in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Centre County in Pennsylvania is the midwest? Oh man, this....this is funny

Maybe they meant 'midwest' Pennsylvania?
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2019


Interestingly, where I grew up in WI we have the largest Belgian expat population outside of Belgium (with place names like Brussels and Luxemburg (yes, no "o")). My friends Dad & Mom's fathers were in a polka band (and in fact, that's how they met).

Polka is still fondly loved up there, and while IDK if it still is played, there was certainly in the 90s a polka show on the local station. Some of the "culture" is indeed for show (the economy primarily driven by tourism). So we had Fish Boils and a Swedish Restaurant with Goats on the roof.

It sickens me to think that there's probably some of our rednecks up there probably waving that shit southern flag. There's plenty of good ones who don't do that shit (I have as friends) but increasingly it concerns me.

But I have no doubt we all - those who grew up where I did or in the big ol City of 200k people I live in now - all think of ourselves as Midwest.

I think the chart/map is more due to the fact they spoke to more city people as these are self-appellations. So if you aren't getting in touch with the rural areas they won't show. That's all.
posted by symbioid at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2019


People in New England do not comprehend that land exists west of the Hudson River. RI has parts of New England to the east, and parts to the west, and therefore it's the middle.

This is me squinting.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2019


Yes, historically speaking the core Midwest was originally defined by the Northwest Ordinance of 1785. Alternately, Union states bordering the Mississippi during the American Civil War. In my experience, one of the shibboleths of Midwestern White is a sense of smug superiority about not being Southern White. It's one of the things my Chicago and Wabash Valley kin both agree on. The longer I live in the Deep South, the less patient I am with that flavor of NIMBYism.

These terms are historical artifacts and it doesn't make sense to chase down the etymological fallacy. If we go down that road, a large number of place names in North America would need to be revised.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Here's my own map, which as you can see, has a lot of overlap, but also I never think about idaho
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a born and raised Iowan, for about half my life my conception of the midwest was "Iowa plus states that border Iowa yes including South Dakota". Michigan and Indiana? Sure, maybe. Ohio? Too far east and too densely populated.
posted by jomato at 12:06 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Automocar Even by that idea you'd still put the "midwest" somewhere on the western side of the map, not on the eastern side.

Draw a vertical line right down the center of the USA and most of the area defined as the midwest will be east of that line, not west of it.


Yeah, but we're talking about a term that's been around for a long time. Everything west of the Mississippi was (and still is, frankly) virtually deserted, in the eyes of white Americans of the time. I'm not sure why you think "west" equals "Pacific Ocean border states".
posted by Automocar at 12:30 PM on August 30, 2019


To confuse things further, many in Wyoming, far western South Dakota and far western Nebraska consider themselves culturally part of The West. It's a lot of arid, ragged ranchland, they're not really wrong.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:38 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


I’m from south Louisiana, and we didn’t become Americans by choice. Can we have an asterisk? Oh, yeah, the slavery. Fair enough.
posted by wintermind at 12:41 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm still relatively naive to the eastern borders, but I'd add this take to the list: cities that lie along the Missouri River, once it hits the Iowa border, are Midwestern. Those that are fully to the west/south of the Missouri River might count, but they're outposts. So Omaha, Kansas City, and St Louis are the western/southern reach. Lincoln, Nebraska probably makes it by extension along the I-80 corridor, and if you're so inclined, you may include Kearney. Beyond that, Nebraska and Kansas are Plains states. To me, southern Missouri and much of Arkansas are a hilly and forested Ozarks extension.

I'd love to claim upper Minnesota, but anything north of the Twin Cities seems like a forest/lake region that also includes northwest Wisconsin. I guess my common thread for the midwest is the near-complete agricultural terraforming and urban industrialization that accompanied -- there are no more natural prairies, no old-growth forests, just fields of crops and the towns/cities that cropped up along the way.
posted by mikeh at 12:58 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Automocar I think perhaps I didn't state things clearly. I was, as I am every time the term comes up, sort of combined bemused and mildly irked at the inconsistency of the name and the actual location.

I commented that a person unfamiliar with the oddities of US naming for regions, if asked to identify a region in the USA that should be called the midwest, would pick a place actually in the middle and western part of the map as a way of illustrating my bemusement (and very mild irritation) at the way history has produced names that flatly don't fit the places.

I thoroughly understand the history of the regional name and the reason for it.
posted by sotonohito at 1:07 PM on August 30, 2019


I was taught that the current US Midwest was just the newer name for the old Northwest Territories from yesteryear. What's wrong with that definition? Why keep reinventing the wheel?
posted by frodisaur at 1:09 PM on August 30, 2019


Names for regions reflect history and demography, not physical geography. The label "Midwest" might seem strange when looking at a map of the U.S., but look at a density-equalized cartogram of state population and it makes a bit more sense.
posted by biogeo at 1:18 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Missouri is Midwest. Source: Am Missouri.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:21 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


"one of the most Midwestern places I've ever been is in Florida around Fort Meyers"

Absolutely. Fort Myers is like Oz in that the people are arguably more midwestern than people in the midwest, but the scenery is the exact opposite of the midwest.

"Its eastern edge would seem to me to be Columbus, Ohio"

As a former Columbus resident, I mostly agree. I remember looking east from an elevated point (OK, OK, it was a highway overpass) on the east side of the city about 10 years ago and thinking "that's not midwest", and then looking west on the west side of the city and thinking "that's absolutely midwest". But Buffalo is still midwestern.

"I was taught that the current US Midwest was just the newer name for the old Northwest Territories from yesteryear. What's wrong with that definition?"

It omits Iowa, which is unquestionably midwestern.

I feel like this is a good thread to post about the shirt I bought myself for my birthday, which nobody in New England understands is a joke.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2019 [11 favorites]


For another long, tedious discussion, consider the perceived distinction between "Upper Midwest" and "Lower Midwest". "Upper" is definitely Minnesota. "Lower" is definitely Ohio and Indiana. The rest is up for debate.
posted by gimonca at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2019


Lifelong coastal Californian here, the Midwest is everything inland of the 5 freeway until you get to the Atlantic Ocean.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've wondered why a lot of people in the Great Plains don't consider themselves to be a distinct region and tend to lump themselves in with the Midwest.

I can see a strong argument to be made that the eastern Dakotas and far east Nebraska are midwestern. But cultural, historical, economic and socio-political factors point toward a pretty large part of the middle of the country being a unique area.

Is it because most people aren't so granular when thinking about these things and just default to using the big Census Bureau regions?
posted by theory at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


RAYGUN has this sorted BTW
posted by Caxton1476 at 1:56 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


They had 12,000 respondents, and 99% of them identified Chicago as Midwestern.

So, over a hundred people think Chicago is not Midwestern. I kind of want to see their map of the Midwest.

And 4% think Milwaukee is not Midwestern!
posted by zompist at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2019


People in Minnesota are very confident that Ohio is not in the Midwest, that's a thing I've learned living here.
posted by Kwine at 2:26 PM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think it's interesting that the counties in Montana that identified themselves as Midwestern are the most politically conservative (combines with relatively high population in one of them) in the state. It seems like an aspirational or personal image thing to me in this case. (Being from Montana, I've never considered it or the Dakotas "midwestern". They and Colorado, Wyoming, etc. are just the Rocky Mountain states to me.)
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 2:28 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


>So, over a hundred people think Chicago is not Midwestern. I kind of want to see their map of the Midwest.

It comes from thinking of people who live in big cities as not counting as real members of whatever region their city is in. It's a close cousin to the idea that 'real Americans' aren't city folk.

We saw this just a few weeks ago when NY Times reporter Jonathan Weisman said exactly this regarding Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and John Lewis, among others [WaPo].
posted by theory at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


They had 12,000 respondents, and 99% of them identified Chicago as Midwestern.

12,000 people ranked their own city of residence. They didn't report the number of people who entered a Chicago zip code.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:50 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Midwest is half-way across our continent because we're the Western Hemisphere. Much like the Middle East is halfway across Eurasia.
posted by explosion at 3:17 PM on August 30, 2019


I guess my common thread for the midwest is the near-complete agricultural terraforming and urban industrialization


I really liked Nature's Metropolis, which is about the formation and reformation and redefinition of the central US by new maps of production and transport -- water, trains, debts and markets, politics. It was really interesting to read thinking about container ships and Amazon warehouses, although the book itself doesn't talk about those at all. I probably got the rec off mefi -- thanks, somebody.
posted by clew at 3:59 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


They didn't report the number of people who entered a Chicago zip code.

You're right. But that makes some of the charts a little dubious, since no N is reported for either cities or counties.
posted by zompist at 4:22 PM on August 30, 2019


St. Louis is definitely in the Midwest. St. Louis is also definitely one of the northernmost outposts of the South. It's both southern and northern. Neighbors fought neighbors during the Civil War, and I think we are all aware how that legacy lives on. But nothing west of the baker is the Midwest.

Don't know about the baker? In St. Louis, we live in the baker's belly; Minnesota is the baker's hat; Iowa, the face; Arkansas, the pants; and Louisiana, the boot. (Though Louisiana is sadly increasingly less boot-like every day.) Of those states, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri constitute the western-most boundary of the Midwest. Kansas City would be the westernmost outpost.

The Dakotas and Michigan are not in the Midwest. Though like Texas, Michigan is a destination many people in the Midwest happen to like visiting. And yeah, Cleveland is definitely not in the Midwest, though I can see why people in New York might think so (like on 30 Rock).

Columbus is definitely the easternmost outpost of the Midwest. I'm not sure what the northernmost outpost would be... Somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin, surely.
posted by limeonaire at 4:59 PM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


> Lifelong coastal Californian here, the Midwest is everything inland of the 5 freeway until you get to the Atlantic Ocean.
> People in New England do not comprehend that land exists west of the Hudson River.

I think this is part of the confusion. When a lot of coastal people say "the midwest," they mean "the part that's not near an ocean."
posted by scose at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I always went with Indiana being "where the deep South prolapsed north"
posted by Ferreous at 6:33 PM on August 30, 2019


I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. Without a doubt we considered ourselves to be Midwestern. It didn't seem too odd until I moved to California and had to explain to people how a town that it is clearly in the eastern half of the country could call itself "Midwest"

My answer, based on a vague memory of sixth grade Ohio history, is that Ohio became the Midwest when the idea of "West" shifted from "west of the Alleghanies" to "west of the Mississippi" although towns within a day's ride or so to the west of the Mississippi River were still Midwest, not full West.
posted by metahawk at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


The midwest seems to be defined by most midwesterns as 'the state I'm in and the states that are surrounding mine, but maybe not the states over there'
posted by dinty_moore at 7:23 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


octothorpe: "Nothing pisses off a Pittsburgher more than saying their city is in the Midwest but having grown up in the NJ/NY area, I find it really hard to think of this place as an Eastern city. I mean beyond the fact that you can't get a decent slice of pizza or a good bagel here, the attitude and pace of city life feels so different from the east coast."

Pittsburgh is neither east coast nor midwest. Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:37 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is a good thread to post about the shirt I bought myself for my birthday, which nobody in New England understands is a joke.

In The Proper Bostonians, Cleveland Amory provides this anecdote:
The Midwest has apparently always been Boston's bane. "A grand reservoir for our excess population," declared a young Boston clergyman when the region was first being settled. A more modem story grew up around two sisters from Burlington, Iowa, who came to Boston to marry Bostonians. Declaring they were from Iowa, they once received the astonishing rebuke, "In Boston we pronounce it Ohio."
posted by adamg at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


The South is below the Sweet Tea Line. Or is it below the National Road?

Where Does the South Begin?
posted by kirkaracha at 9:11 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


This basically lines up with what I think of as the Midwest, but I've always been upset with the name. Obviously it should be the Midnorth or something like that.
posted by ktkt at 10:23 PM on August 30, 2019


Cntl + F "tile drain" agriculture discussion not found. Odd. If your state killed all its wetlands and is pumping all kindsa of nitrate down the Mississippi through pipes you installed under the wetlands, you live in the Midwest. I would have thought commodity ag would have been more apart of these discussions. No other continent has a grain producing region tied directly into s massive river convenient for shipping the grain.
posted by eustatic at 10:40 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


“Everyone knows that Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha—these are Midwestern cities.”

One of these things is different, and does not belong.

I used to go along with the Big 10 rule: if your state has a Big 10 team, you’re in the Midwest, but that allowed Pennsylvania, which is weird. Then the Big 10 went nuts, and started allowing teams from all over, so it’s useless.

For my own personal Midwest, St. Louis just feels weird, and Missouri reads southern/ozarkish to me. Iowa, somehow, is in, but dakotas and Nebraska are plains states.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:51 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I would have thought commodity ag would have been more apart of these discussions. No other continent has a grain producing region tied directly into s massive river convenient for shipping the grain.

Yeah agricultural river trade does make for very good boundaries - the James River in South Dakota down to the Missouri River in Yankton, on down to where it joins the Mississippi in St. Louis, the Mississippi from St. Louis to Cairo, and up the Ohio River to the eastern edge of Ohio is a really nice general border, with the northern border being where you hit trees or a Great Lake or get too close to North Dakota. The boundaries get iffy in the northwestern portion of the Midwest, you could kind of say it's to the northern extent of the Corn Belt except that extends into ND and that's tough for some to accept as Midwest! There is like an arc from Aberdeen to Britton to Sisseton where it's totally the agricultural Midwest below it and something a little different culturally that's hard to put your finger on once you pass it, but I could see the argument that there is a northwestern spar of the Midwest up the James, a hop skip and jump straight east to the Red River of the North on to Fargo, then along the Minnesota River to Minneapolis/St. Paul and that's your northern border there, but idk, that jaunt up to Fargo seems like it could be a hard sell for some, even though it does kind of fit culturally, sort of. But that's how other seeming outliers like Omaha, KC and St. Louis fit in, Midwestern river trade hubs linking the Midwest to other regions, so idk, it's plausible. And that does define the demarcation in MN pretty well actually.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:05 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd put the half of Ohio that's north of Columbus in the Industrial Rust Belt category, and the southern half (including Columbus) in the Midwest.
posted by essexjan at 2:20 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Agree that Ohio is Midwest but southern OH is also abso-fuckin-lutely Appalachia.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:27 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


My two cents: If you wear cowboy hats a lot, you are not part of the Midwest. You're either the South or the West/Plains. If you are involved with a lot of cattle that yields steaks, you are also not part of the Midwest. You're either the West/Plains or Texan. With these two "rules" in mind, I almost have a hard time seeing Nebraska as Midwestern (cattle). And definitely not Oklahoma. (cattle and hats) I'm even a a bit reluctant to include KC (cattle/steaks) even though culturally they're very Midwestern. I also tend to think of Pony Express states as not Midwest, even though its route started in St. Joe, MO.
posted by readyfreddy at 4:23 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


The local media in Memphis refers to that region as the "Mid-South" (or at least they did when I was there for a few weeks in 2007). Is that view widely shared?

Here in Little Rock, I hear the phrase 'mid-south' primarily in pickup truck commercials.

I would imagine the 'mid-south' encompasses, like, western Tennessee and Kentucky, the non-Ozark-non-Delta portion of Arkansas, and northern Mississippi and Alabama (this 1920 map stretches it to northern Louisiana and southern Missouri). It contrasts with the Old South, which is, like, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia (I wouldn't include Maryland or West Virginia, though some do), and the Deep South, which is, like, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
posted by box at 8:33 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you wear cowboy hats a lot, you are not part of the Midwest. You're either the South or the West/Plains. If you are involved with a lot of cattle that yields steaks, you are also not part of the Midwest.

The cowboy hats thing is... well, unfortunately waaaay too many Midwestern white folks want to cosplay as Southern and Western because it's a visible White Culture thing and gaahhh.

The cattle thing is a little fuzzier than that, you lose MO because it's #2 in beef cattle production and Iowa squeaks into the top 10. I think the distinction could be drawn where, outside of feedlots, are the cattle raised primarily on pasture land or ranch land, though that's more of a geography thing and you'd have to push the western boundary further west than most people would agree with unless they've been there, to where the geography changes past the western edge of the Missouri River Valley. That gives you half of South Dakota and the easternmost counties of Nebraska as Midwestern, which is largely culturally and geographically agricultural Midwest but it gets real fuzzy the further north you go, like I'd be perfectly happy calling Yankton SD or Norfolk NE Midwestern, but I'd be uncomfortable following the Missouri past Yankton - but also Chamberlain SD, right there on the Missouri a hundred miles or so past Yankton, is really not Great Plains and is more Midwestern culturally even though it's getting awful Plainsy geographically (and it's mere miles from being undeniably Great Plains territory, it's a tangible, blatant shift!), and yet parts between Yankton and Chamberlain are totally Great Plains culturally though not geographically and I'd never call them Midwestern. And if you move like an inch too far north in eastern SD you get into this very Scandinavian northern Plains/Midwest culture that is super hard to categorize, but it's an almost impossible border to trace. As someone from the Great Plains who now lives in the Midwest, I'd be hard pressed to categorize somewhere like Chamberlain, that's waaay west to comfortably feel of a whole with, say, Cedar Rapids IA, but it's a lot more like Cedar Rapids than it is like Valentine NE, or even nearby and firmly east-of-the-Missouri Platte SD. And there are a lot of weirdo edge cases all along the Midwest. It's tricky!

The Northwoods/Midwest shift is weird, and I'm not familiar with the culture of the Rust Belt but I'm sure it's weird there too on the border between regions, and the border with the South is maybe weirder than all of the rest because Southern cultural bleed into the Midwest is a huge thing. It's like, obviously there's no hard line anywhere because cultures shift over an area, so do you want to be more inclusive of the Midwest or of the bordering regions? Because if you're trying to define those other regions you run into the same problem.

To be honest, to figure out SD and NE maybe talk to some Mennonites and Schmiedeleut Hutterites, because it's kind of where their internal cultures shift that the western/northwestern Midwest runs out.

Also the Hispanic Midwest is an awesome thing to see forming and will really get some people up in arms about what's really Midwest when they can't just write off cities but have to reckon with rural areas that aren't all white, and I can't wait. Ditto the Islamic and southeast Asian populations in even small Midwestern cities, it rules and I'm here for it and things are culturally much more interesting in the Midwest than any of our generalizations can cover, and getting more so by the day.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:56 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that "Mid-South" is literally the Memphis metropolitan area.

Little Rock is "Arkansas", southern Arkansas/northern Louisiana is "Ark-La-Tex", eastern Oklahoma is "Green Country", and Oklahoma City is "Oklahoma". I don't care what they call Nashville.

Also, the people in the Great Plains say they're in the Midwest. It's not just up to the people in the Northwest Territory to decide.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I like tile drains as a marker. Personally the 100th meridian is my west boundary, though more the (moving) rainfall limit for which the meridian is symbolic than the actual longitude.
posted by clew at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2019


Why do I keep seeing people saying that Missouri is Midwestern?? It's 1000% not. Missouri was a Confederate state and Kansas was a Union state. There's literally a high school in my Kansas hometown called Free State.* Missouri is a Southern state. Eastern Kansas is deffo Midwestern but western Kansas is The West, like Colorado or Montana.

Also, Iowa and Nebraska are Midwest. Oklahoma is not. That's the South, like Missouri. Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin are the North. Indiana, Illinois and Ohio are East.

And I enjoy calling my best friend, who works in Cincinnati, lives in Northern Kentucky and grew up in Maine, a Yankee!

Yeah, she hates it.

*born and and raised in Eastern Kansas, married a dude from Missouri
posted by blessedlyndie at 8:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


And whither poor North Dakota? It seems like it doesn't fit any of the options used to group the states.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:51 PM on August 31, 2019


Missouri was a border state that stayed with the Union. There was a Confederate government in exile founded by the ex-governor and some of the legislature, but they didn't control any territory.

* Family is from southwest Missouri. I spent a lot of summers there and went to (then) SMSU in Springfield for a semester. Every weekend people would road trip to Galena, Kansas, because the drinking age was lower in Kansas and Galena was the closest town across the border.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:07 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Apparently geological and cultural boundaries in the US are my momentary obsession this week and I found this shiny fascinating map that I figured some here would like. It's got the right scale and detail to really grasp the earth below guiding the culture above in tangible ways.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 PM on August 31, 2019


And whither poor North Dakota?

North Dakota is a Prairie Province.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:28 PM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


See, if you dig on physiographic provinces, you need to check the tile drain maps. It s the industrialized physiography of the Midwest.

There s a massive amount of them, under what used to be a large wetland basin. Iowa used to have wetlands. Just like in California s central valley, drained wetlands make great soils, provided you have limitless guano to apply to the fields, and don't care about subsidence or pollution.

Which is also why the USA has one of the largest or the largest hypoxic zone, in its southern sea.
posted by eustatic at 9:31 PM on September 1, 2019


Oh yeah Iowa even got rid of an entire county, Bancroft County, because they couldn't tame the wetlands there and wrote it off - eventually they figured it out, though, unfortunately.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:15 PM on September 1, 2019


A vivid print of the drainages of North America.
posted by clew at 3:56 PM on September 2, 2019


"Missouri was a border state that stayed with the Union. There was a Confederate government in exile founded by the ex-governor and some of the legislature, but they didn't control any territory."

No, Missouri was and is a Southern state.
I grew up brown and queer in Kansas and I knew, Never Go To Missouri because the Sothern rednecks would kill you.
posted by blessedlyndie at 10:26 PM on September 2, 2019


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