The heartland always a place of global connection, not isolation, author says

Date

04/10/19

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A persistent heartland myth paints the rural and small town Midwest as local, insular, isolationist – “the ultimate national safe space, walled off from the rest of the world,” says University of Illinois historian Kristin Hoganson.

Dig into the history, however, which Hoganson has done for a new book, and you find the myth is far from reality.

The region has not been insular, but globally connected – in myriad ways stretching back to the advent of European colonialism. Rather than isolationist, it is “riddled with histories of foreign relations,” often in service to agriculture.

“It would take an entire atlas of maps layered on top of one another, transparency style, to convey the far-flung relationships that formed (this region),” Hoganson wrote in “The Heartland: An American History,” being published in April by Penguin Press.

Based on her research, Hoganson suggests that the “heart” in “heartland” should have a different connotation from that of the fixed symbolic core of the nation, the “quintessentially all-American place.” Instead, she reveals a heart that’s “alive and vibrant, pumping in the center of a vast network.”

A specialist in U.S. foreign relations history, Hoganson began her research for “The Heartland” in her own backyard, in central Illinois, looking deep into its past and following the leads where they led.

She found a kind of cattle crossroads starting in the mid-1800s, with animals coming from Mexico, Indian Territory and Texas for fattening, as well as from Canada and Great Britain as breeding stock. That’s the subject of the chapter “Meat in the Middle.”

The story with hogs was similar. The popular Berkshire breed came from Britain too, its ancestry partially from China. Midwest pork was shipped abroad thanks to British-financed U.S. railroads and British ships; while it helped feed the British Empire, Midwest pork also undercut British producers. That’s the subject of the chapter “Hog Tied.”

Hoganson also found that Midwestern farmers, in search of export markets, often advocated for expansive foreign policies, not isolationism.  They also forged agrarian alliances across national borders, largely through their pursuit of scientific agriculture. One result is the vast system of underground field tiles that helped turn many soggy acres into fertile cropland.

Flipping the perspective conveyed by the term “flyover country,” Hoganson instead looked at many ways the Midwest has been an aerial destination or center of activity. In a chapter titled “Flownover States,” she chronicled the role the Midwest played in early ballooning and aviation, where the region’s often-flat and predictable geography was seen as an asset. Likewise, its farmers played a leading role in support for mapping international migratory routes of birds, valued for insect control.

Among many other stories in “The Heartland” are those of polar explorers and a globe-trotting congressman, of bioprospectors who brought the soybean from Asia, and of the displacement of the Kickapoo people, who start and end the book.

 “The U.S. heartland is the overlooked part of the country,” Hoganson said. “It doesn’t get much attention, and the attention it gets – the rural and small-town heartland, in particular – tends to be distorted through the lenses of stereotype and myth. This means not only that most Americans don’t understand the big middle of the country, but also that people who live there are cut off from their own past.”

Hoganson understands this from a personal perspective. Though a product of deep Midwestern family roots, she was raised and educated on the East Coast. She bought into aspects of the local, insular heartland myth before arriving in central Illinois 20 years ago.

On her first day in the Corn Belt county in which the university resides, however, she turned on the radio while unpacking. “Out came the weather forecast for Argentina and China and Brazil, and I realized that I had no idea where I had landed,” Hoganson said.

It planted a seed that would eventually become the book.

Hoganson had focused her research on the “long 19th century” from the early national period to World War I, presumed to be a more locally focused, less globalized period. In writing “The Heartland,” she wanted to explore “the back story to our globalized present,” and in the place often seen as “quintessentially local.”

Upon finding more leads than she could follow, she pursued the ones that illustrated six main themes – human mobility, border brokering, economic ties, alliance politics, geographic awareness, and security.

 “The book is particularly relevant now because we’re living in a time when talk about walls is ubiquitous,” Hoganson said. “There are a number of people who think that this is who Americans are as a people, that we historically have gone it alone, and that this is what national greatness has involved.

“That’s a misrepresentation of the position of the United States globally and historically. Even for the seemingly most local, isolated places, it’s not actually true.”

 

Article re-posted from the Illinois News Bureau

Related People

hoganson

Directory

loughranTrish
Loughran
dkoenkerDiane
Koenker
hliebersHarry
Liebersohn
aespiritAugusto
Espiritu
steinbMark
Steinberg
kmcunoKenneth
Cuno
rjrossRichard
Ross
rptobyRonald
Toby
eavrutinEugene
Avrutin
kchow1Kai-Wing
Chow
aburtonAntoinette
Burton
burgosjrAdrian
Burgos, Jr
dprochasDavid
Prochaska
emcduffiErik
McDuffie
hogansonKristin
Hoganson
hoxieFrederick
Hoxie
jandersJames
Anderson
jbrennanJames
Brennan
j-love2Joseph
Love
johnlynnJohn
Lynn
jwrJohn
Randolph
khitchinKeith
Hitchins
msmicaleMark
Micale
m-stuartMary
Stuart
mtodorovMaria
Todorova
njacobseNils
Jacobsen
pfritzscPeter
Fritzsche
poshekfuPoshek
Fu
rotaEmanuel
Rota
schajuaSundiata
Cha-Jua
schndrDorothee
Schneider
symesCarol
Symes
tbarnes2Teresa
Barnes
tchaplinTamara
Chaplin
ccsCharles
Stewart
crowstonClare
Crowston
koslofCraig
Koslofsky
bedwellThomas
Bedwell
jrbarretJames
Barrett
hibbardcCaroline
Hibbard
hoddesonLillian
Hoddeson
blevine3Bruce
Levine
ralphwmRalph
Mathisen
megmclauMegan
McLaughlin
melhadoEvan
Melhado
kjoKathryn
Oberdeck
epleckElizabeth
Pleck
drabinDana
Rabin
lreaganLeslie
Reagan
burkhardRichard
Burkhardt
godwin1Katherine
Godwin
jpmckayJohn
McKay
j-pruettJohn
Pruett
murphy71Evan
Murphy
quick2Elizabeth
Quick
rmitchllRichard
Mitchell
c-spenceClark
Spence
pschroedPaul
Schroeder
rmccolleRobert
McColley
warnsteiWalter
Arnstein
wsolbergWinton
Solberg
m-spenceMary
Spence
ovburtonOrville
Burton
rmorrissRobert
Morrissey
djordje1Stefan
Djordjevic
kosovyc2Stefan
Kosovych
mendez3Veronica
Mendez Johnson
mswhite3Megan
White
bmakBonnie
Mak
jdavilaJerry
Dávila
navales2Kent
Navalesi
riwilsonRoderick
Wilson
kmumfordKevin
Mumford
rhogarthRana
Hogarth
aachmie2Agata
Chmiel
rescoba2Raquel
Escobar
hfreun2Heather
Freund
drjones5Douglas
Jones
kais2Alexander
Kais
eelarso2Ethan
Larson
dlehman2David
Lehman
mlbrenn2Margaret
Brennan
harshmn2Matthew
Harshman
tkhan6Tariq
Khan
matssht2Elizabeth
Matsushita
cortega5Carolina
Ortega
tollerc2Ian
Toller-Clark
bawilli2Beth Ann
Williams
woodiii2Augustus
Wood III
pqwrigh2Peter
Wright
iasakaIkuko
Asaka
hertzmanMarc
Hertzman
shannon9Shannon
Croft
bcmpbll2Brian
Campbell
lddunca2Leanna
Duncan
escanil2Silvia
Escanilla Huerta
ghanoui2Saniya
Ghanoui
kojiito2Koji
Ito
mjaimes3Marco
Jaimes
klpfnst2Matthew
Klopfenstein
mora6Juan
Mora
tsantan2Thais
Rezende Da Silva De Sant'ana
takauch2Yuki
Takauchi
pbthomp2Peter
Thompson
nobiliMauro
Nobili
eadamoLiz
Adamo
rallen11Ryan
Allen
candrsn5J.E. Chris
Anderson
xchen151Xiao
Chen
fcowan2Felix
Cowan
denby3Eric
Denby
vmdiaz3Valerie
Diaz
snettin2Sean
Ettinger
cgreen11Morgan
Green
ohagedo2Olivia
Hagedorn
huang094Jun
Huang
kenisto2Billy
Keniston
cosei2Cassandra
Osei
rogaar2Eva
Rogaar
mjruiz2Michael
Ruiz
stvital2Stephen
Vitale
wisnsky2Catherine
Wisnosky
atyost2Franziska
Yost
cbosakClara
Bosak-Schroeder
cbrossedClaudia
Brosseder
trday3Thomas
Day
lobue2Adam
LoBue
lkm2Lisa
Mercer
adrianv3Adrian
van der Velde
tkvaugh2Taryn
Vaughn
cswrothCelestina
Savonius-Wroth
gak33Gracjan
Kraszewski
mebMarsha
Barrett
eabosch2Elizabeth
Abosch
ed5Elizabeth
Dean
ctg3Christopher
Goodwin
stetson3Stetson
Kastengren
hanping2Hanping
Li
lliu80Lingyan
Liu
bscBonnie
Crawford
sepkoskiDavid
Sepkoski
chettiarTeri
Chettiar
gilbertdDaniel
Gilbert
jsbell3Jacob
Bell
drsullivDawn
Voyles
ncoskun2Noyan
Coskun
wcrane2William
Crane
tdudley2Tessara
Dudley
rhein2Rhiannon
Hein
kelleyi2Kurtis
Kelley
leoni1Natalie
Leoni
mnatale2Marisa
Natale
ryanjs7Ryan
Schmitt
damirv2Damir
Vucicevic
marciabMarcia
Bellafiore
mga5Marcos Gildemaro
Alarcon Olivos
mibrad50Michael
Bradley
sdf3Samuel
Froiland
khudzik2Stas
Khudzik
owenjm2Owen
MacDonald
ruthvm2Ruth
Mandala
chloe3Chloe
Parrella
ats9Alexandra
Sundarsingh
toups2Eric
Toups
ev7Liza
Vostriakova
bch7Bridgette
Hammond
smerrit2Samantha
Merritt
gmoran6Grace
Moran