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October 1999 Issue
The Geographical Review
October 1999, Vol. 89 (4), pp. 511-532
WRITING THE MIDWEST: HISTORY, LITERATURE, AND REGIONAL IDENTITY
KENT C. RYDEN
Keywords: Midwest, nonfiction literature, regional identity.
In this article I discuss the function of history in constructing regional identity and explore the ways in which the American Midwest differs from other widely recognized regions--New England, the South, and the West--in the kinds of historical figures and narratives that create a regional distinctiveness in the eyes of residents and writers. Whereas other regions tend to locate identity in a limited number of well-known figures and events from the past and to generalize them to the region as a whole, in the Midwest meaning is discerned on a more limited, place-by-place basis, in terms of more strictly local events and personages. This understanding of a particular kind of historically based identity is made especially clear in contemporary nonfiction from the Midwest, which collectively creates a dense mosaic of local meanings in a landscape conventionally seen by outsiders as largely empty of interest and significance.