The Heartland: An American History

The Heartland: An American History

A history of a quintessentially American place - the rural and small town heartland -- that uncovers deep yet hidden currents of connection with the world.When Kristin L. Hoganson arrived in Champaign, Illinois, after teaching at Harvard, studying at Yale, and living in the D.C. metro area with various stints overseas, she expected to find her new home, well, isolated. Eve...

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Title:The Heartland: An American History
Author:Kristin L. Hoganson
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The Heartland: An American History Reviews

  • Scott

    This is a great read for busting the myth that the Heartland is isolated, remote, insular, non-cosmopolitan, and some kind of sui generis creation of (white) pioneer settlers. Historian Kristin L. Hoganson works with the county containing Champaign, Illinois (location of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) to explore the literal draining of the wetlands, the global migratory lives of the birds of this area, the international roots of the domestic pig breed (including importation of E

    This is a great read for busting the myth that the Heartland is isolated, remote, insular, non-cosmopolitan, and some kind of sui generis creation of (white) pioneer settlers. Historian Kristin L. Hoganson works with the county containing Champaign, Illinois (location of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) to explore the literal draining of the wetlands, the global migratory lives of the birds of this area, the international roots of the domestic pig breed (including importation of English Berkshires) and cash crops like corn, rice, and soybeans, the agricultural communities historical and current involvement in world commerce and travel, and the lives of American Indians, in particular the Kickapoo, whose story spans from the Great Lakes to Mexico. Their abuse by individual citizens and the U.S. government offers a strong critique of our accepted conceptions of home, land, and belonging. What emerges is a much more complex picture of the people and places of the Midwest, more varied and faceted than even many who live here would generally acknowledge. A healthy tonic for those who espouse Coastal mindsets, and an opportunity for locals to engage with an enlarged understanding of the heritage of their place!

  • Janilyn Kocher

    The Heartland is a brief snapshot of middle America, focusing primarily on Illinois and the community of Champaign, since the author works at the local university. She begins by addressing all the nicknames for the Midwest, including the flyover states, a label I personally detest because it's denigrating. The Midwest has much to offer and its citizens' values are often scoffed at, but midwesterners are hardy, stable, reliable, and loyal. Hoganson explores the Kickapoo history and the rich agrar

    The Heartland is a brief snapshot of middle America, focusing primarily on Illinois and the community of Champaign, since the author works at the local university. She begins by addressing all the nicknames for the Midwest, including the flyover states, a label I personally detest because it's denigrating. The Midwest has much to offer and its citizens' values are often scoffed at, but midwesterners are hardy, stable, reliable, and loyal. Hoganson explores the Kickapoo history and the rich agrarian history of the region. Overall, it's a good overview to promote the value of the region. I'm not quite sure why the author felt the need to write it, unless she believed it was necessary to substantiate that the Midwest Is valuable. I am a proud native Midwestern who lives not too far from the primary region focused on in the book and I encourage all readers to explore the vast history and richness of the "middle west."

    Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read.

  • Ethan

    The author's exploration into the history of the "American heartland" of the Midwest, demonstrating through its own historical record how the mythology surrounding the heartland is inconsistent with its lived experience.

    The author has done a deep dive into the historical records of Champaign, Illinois, and uses it as representative of the Midwest in general. The "heartland" is often seen as open, empty space, waiting for settlement; she shows how the Kickapoo were run out of the land so as to ma

    The author's exploration into the history of the "American heartland" of the Midwest, demonstrating through its own historical record how the mythology surrounding the heartland is inconsistent with its lived experience.

    The author has done a deep dive into the historical records of Champaign, Illinois, and uses it as representative of the Midwest in general. The "heartland" is often seen as open, empty space, waiting for settlement; she shows how the Kickapoo were run out of the land so as to make it seem open and empty, and chronicles the dispossession and inhuman treatment the Kickapoos experienced as they were driven west and later south. The "heartland" is often seen as insulated, remote and disconnected from the issues of the world; she shows how the farmers and institutions of Champaign County were deeply enmeshed in the world of the day, growing crops and raising hogs and cattle with connections from Britain to Canada to Mexico, literally feeding the forces of empire during World War I, driving economic expansion, and thus by no means innocent of the projection of empire around the world.

    And so the "heartland" shares in the spoils and the snares of the Anglo-Saxon project in Britain and America, and was very much a part of it.

    A thoroughly engaging work.

    **--galley received as part of early review program

  • Martyn Smith

    The ideas of this book are valuable, though the writing is mediocre. As with many academic projects, I can imagine this book shrunk into two highly interesting New Yorker style articles.

    The first article that I'd select from this book would be the creation of the "Heartland." In Hoganson's telling, America arrived at a point when it needed an identity. We can imagine any number of choices for that symbolic heart of the country--why not New York City? Why not New England? Why not the coasts? But

    The ideas of this book are valuable, though the writing is mediocre. As with many academic projects, I can imagine this book shrunk into two highly interesting New Yorker style articles.

    The first article that I'd select from this book would be the creation of the "Heartland." In Hoganson's telling, America arrived at a point when it needed an identity. We can imagine any number of choices for that symbolic heart of the country--why not New York City? Why not New England? Why not the coasts? But the collective choice was made to locate the "heart" of the country in what we think of now as the Midwest (which was once just the West). From there a myth was constructed about isolation and fundamental goodness. A valuable part of this book is the examination of "local history" in chapter 1, were she demonstrates that these books (gathering dust in our libraries) went about setting up European settlers as the true occupants of the land, while Native Americans were dismissed as being ramblers who were never truly settled the land. White European settlers thus produced the quality of the "local" in ways that people passing through and over the land could not.

    My second selection for a lengthy essay would be a shorter version of the surprising central chapters on cattle, hogs, and agriculture. Those who founded the cities and towns of the Midwest in the 19th century perceived themselves as part of a global network of food production. They were interested in cattle from Britain and hogs from China and wheat and vegetables from pretty much everywhere. They understood their region not as some fenced in place that had to make do with whatever they had, or a place where they had to "go it alone," but as a region that could be fundamentally transformed by rational progress. Looking in old newspapers from Illinois, Hoganson finds plenty of evidence, in advertisements or short news items, that people in the Midwest imagined themselves as connected to the globe. In fact, they understood well that their prosperity depended on certain government trade policies, and were thus engaged with foreign policy questions.

    In her conclusion Hoganson makes use of an image that I particularly liked: "It would take an entire atlas of maps layered on top of one another, transparency style, to convey the far-flung relationships that formed [the heartland]." Though she mentions "transparencies," we know that we are in the realm of Google Earth here, with its map overlays. She helps us to imagine the layers and connections that technology and the Internet has helped us to imagine more readily.

    The myth of the local continues to overwrite the connections of the "Heartland" with the rest of the world. As I've walked through county fairs in Wisconsin and looked at the cattle and pigs, I don't recall seeing signs explaining the foreign origin of these animals or the export of them to foreign places. There's rather a sense that hearty young men and women have raised these American creatures, and as good Americans we make use of these creatures. Global connections are not self-evident, and it's far easier to imagine self-sufficiency. We should make a collective effort to draw out the global. Even at county fairs, we should follow Hoganson's lead and trace breeds back to the Netherlands, or wherever they came from. We should point to the countries where all that soy and corn will wind up. Collectively we have allowed this myth of the Heartland to go unchecked, and we are paying the price now in every way.

  • David Bradshaw

    KikiKaPaWa - Kickapoo meant to walkabout

    In opposition to those who would pin security solely to place with boundaries that could cause people to surrender communities as readily as they could guard them .

    The the cosmopolitan club at the University of Illinois adopted this motto 'above all nations is humanity '

    Midwest (Heartland) is truly the crossroads of America rather than an isolated parochial locale

    The porcine species is purely is purely the associate of homemaking humanity

  • Kristine

    Bucking myths and stereotypes on who inhabits the Midwest, and what it’s really all about through sociology, regional history and economy (particularly Champaign, IL), tribal experiences (particularly the Kickapoo), tending livestock, exporting agriculture, the use of railroads to supply and service the entire area, its own particular ecology and weather, and maintaining contact and relevancy with the rest of

    Bucking myths and stereotypes on who inhabits the Midwest, and what it’s really all about through sociology, regional history and economy (particularly Champaign, IL), tribal experiences (particularly the Kickapoo), tending livestock, exporting agriculture, the use of railroads to supply and service the entire area, its own particular ecology and weather, and maintaining contact and relevancy with the rest of the US. It's rather a lot like it’s a weather report: the Midwest seems like it’s being pointed at, but really circled around its general area, instead.

  • Christian Raab, OSB

    Smart book with a creative (in the good sense) use of historical evidence to advance a thesis that the Midwest is truly the crossroads of America rather than an isolated parochial locale. The book was not quite what I was expecting because it focused a lot on economics, livestock, and agriculture. These are not the things I usually choose to read about, but the author made it pretty interesting and in fact showed how these things related to culture which was my primary reason for picking up the

    Smart book with a creative (in the good sense) use of historical evidence to advance a thesis that the Midwest is truly the crossroads of America rather than an isolated parochial locale. The book was not quite what I was expecting because it focused a lot on economics, livestock, and agriculture. These are not the things I usually choose to read about, but the author made it pretty interesting and in fact showed how these things related to culture which was my primary reason for picking up the book. I was fascinated for example by the author's descriptions of the intersection of racial tensions and agriculture, that people had biases toward and against foods and crops and animals that paralleled racial attitudes. That was illuminating. There is also a very interesting history here of the Kikapoo Indians about whom I knew little about beforehand. What I did not care for so much was that the book did not seem to find much to celebrate about the Midwest accept maybe that it is just as connected to the wider world as other places are. This it seems to me is to accept the assumption that cosmopolitanism really is the measuring stick by which everything ought to be measured.

  • Rebecca Wilkins

    I read about this book in a review in my Sunday newspaper. It is a scholarly book by a history professor at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Dr. Hoganson is a transplant to the Midwest. Coming from the East Coast she has now spent more time in Illinois and calls the prairie state "home." I was a native of Michigan who left 50 years ago for the West Coast. I left to escape to "greener pastures" and she got there fearing she would become the provincial conservative hayseed

    I read about this book in a review in my Sunday newspaper. It is a scholarly book by a history professor at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Dr. Hoganson is a transplant to the Midwest. Coming from the East Coast she has now spent more time in Illinois and calls the prairie state "home." I was a native of Michigan who left 50 years ago for the West Coast. I left to escape to "greener pastures" and she got there fearing she would become the provincial conservative hayseed that the region's flyover reputation led her to believe was at the "heart" of America. When one leaves "home" we don't really think of it as anything but a place we escaped from and we also are stuck with our memories of how it was when we lived there. The problem was that we were children and it was a specific period in time. Hence although I have periodically read books about the Midwest, it hasn't been a big study area for me. I don't know that until recently when it has become so important politically that much popular scholarship has been done on the Heartland.

    Dr. Hoganson studies Champaigne County starting with the Kickapoo Indians and the County History books that were published in the 19th century about the great settlers of the area. She delves deeply into the farm country and how important markets, weather, seeds and livestock are to the farmers and through all of that connects them to the global world. She makes it very clear that the stereotype of the lone farmer out in his field on his tractor is NOT what it appears. To succeed or survive at farming one is part of a vast global web that provides food for the world. But despite these connections and the fact that all of those farmers came from somewhere else at one time or another and hence had outside influences, they were most closely connected to Canada and Great Britain.

    They displaced the Native Americans easily and with little guilt thinking that the Natives had not established themselves on the land. The Kickapoos of Illinois were travelling people. Their very name means "he moves about, standing now here, now there." Treatment of African-Americans and Mexicans have the same sorry history. I'm not sure that in my mind even with all of her evidence of the world wide web that Midwesterners are connected to, they still seem to be predominately white and closed to seeing others as worthy of equality. If the Heartland represents the "heart" of America, it is a pretty racist heart.

    Hoganson doesn't really get very far into the 20th Century much less the 21st so we aren't getting a picture of the recent flood of immigrants, "transients, radicals, people of color, audacious women, unruly children, the disabled, the queer or the poor" who make up the current population. Obama came out of Chicago and was elected by the heartlanders. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend Indiana and a gay man was elected as well as the current Chicago mayor a gay woman who is also African-American. I think I would believe the myth is just that if she had taken us a little further into the present.

  • Mary Louise Schumacher

    I had no earthly clue that I needed to know this much about the hidden life of cows. As the daughter of a Wisconsin dairy farmer, I probably should have wondered about the backstory of the family cattle at some point. I didn't. At least not until Kristin Hoganson’s “The Heartland: An American History.” The book reconsiders the history of the Midwest and upends the myths about our national “heartland” as a safe and isolated place, a geographic and symbolic core. The heart of America is a place of

    I had no earthly clue that I needed to know this much about the hidden life of cows. As the daughter of a Wisconsin dairy farmer, I probably should have wondered about the backstory of the family cattle at some point. I didn't. At least not until Kristin Hoganson’s “The Heartland: An American History.” The book reconsiders the history of the Midwest and upends the myths about our national “heartland” as a safe and isolated place, a geographic and symbolic core. The heart of America is a place of empire, shaped by global forces. Hoganson tells the stories of the Kickapoo people, settler colonialism, ornithologists, schools, pigs, drainage systems, agriculture and landscape. It sounds incredibly dry, I know, but it’s revelatory and may alter your ideas of the “local” and your ideas of place. The region so many regard from 37,000 feet -- and see as emerald squares of farmland -- gets weirdly burdened with ideas of the past. It is “the America of America First, the home of homeland security,” writes Hoganson, who unspools much of that. I walked away thinking about all of the boosterish stories that get told about this region and the "friendly" city-to-city rivalries. Now I understand why I cringe. These things are echoes of an antiquarian and not-so-pretty past. I kept thinking about something my midwestern dad often said: It’s high time we face facts. Well, these are the facts. Down cold. It's a fascinating read, and I recommend it.

  • Chris Csergei

    Hoganson's biases and contempt for the people she is writing about are evident in this book. She is selective in the history and details that she focuses on, examining only the the prejudices and practices of the people of the middle states, without putting them into historical context. She follows the modern trend of holding up people of the past to the moral/behaviors standards of the present.

    If you can't be objective about your subject matter, at least write about something that you like.

    Don

    Hoganson's biases and contempt for the people she is writing about are evident in this book. She is selective in the history and details that she focuses on, examining only the the prejudices and practices of the people of the middle states, without putting them into historical context. She follows the modern trend of holding up people of the past to the moral/behaviors standards of the present.

    If you can't be objective about your subject matter, at least write about something that you like.

    Don't waste your time with this book.

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