A revelatory examination of America’s “symbolic center in national mythologies.”
After teaching at Harvard and living in the Washington, D.C., area, among other stops, Hoganson (History/Univ. of Illinois; American Empire at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: A Brief History with Documents, 2016, etc.) found herself unexpectedly transplanted to the Midwest. Instead of readily accepting stereotypes of the nation’s so-called heartland, she began mining the roots of many of these preconceptions. The result is this brilliantly reasoned, meticulously researched book, which refreshingly pushes against stereotypes at every turn. The author demonstrates how the stereotypes and myths about the heartland eventually became conventional wisdom. For decades, any attentive Midwesterner has known that Illinois is not Iowa, is not Missouri, is not Indiana, etc. However, even Hoganson had not realized the gap between reality and the lumped-together reputation of many of these states. For this book, she first began digging into data close to her new home in Urbana-Champaign, where the University of Illinois is located, and then moved beyond to explore community and national elements. Hoganson looked at practices that many conventional scholars have missed: how the raising of cattle for beef led Midwestern farmers to interact with markets around the world, how the raising of hogs for pork led to many of the same results, how most Midwestern voters have never subscribed to isolationist politics, and how so-called flyover country turned out to be anything but boringly flat and technologically backward. Consistently, the author persuasively argues that the term “heartland” must be retired; the geographic center of the United States, she writes, is pulsing with global connections, innovations, varieties of human experiences, and ecological diversity. Hoganson closes by reiterating how “the heartland myth came to be so commensensical: its scaled-up localness is far easier to grasp than the vast complexity of the real world.”
With lively prose, Hoganson delivers an eye-opening, outside-the-box book that is mind-bending in all the right ways.