Global | Local | Middle

Friday, December 29, 2006

When Did the Midwest Become the "Heartland"?

When I moved from Chicago to Champaign, Illinois, in the fall of 2005 I noticed the pervasive use of the term "heartland" in local businesses. There are banks, heating and cooling companies, burger shacks, etc., all with some version of Heartland in their name. Chicago has its lefty Heartland Cafe and a few other similarly named businesses and organizations. But nothing like downstate. Why all this claiming of the heartland, I wondered, and what does it mean?

For about a year I've been thinking about a project that would answer these questions.

My working thesis is in two parts, one about timing, the other about meaning. First, although a term of long-standing, the use of "heartland" to describe the Midwest grew as the region was heading into industrial decline after 1973 in the face of a new wave of global economic integration. Second, "heartland," is a term of reaction and forgetting. It recasts the "rustbelt" (the image of urban decay) into a bucolic, racially homogeneous (white), politically and socially conservative small-town region.

After talking to Jim Akerman and Bob Karrow at the Newberry Library, specialists in maps and vernacular geography, I decided to track the use of "heartland" in historical newspapers. Thanks to the digitized databases, this is just a matter of an afternoon's work. The chart at the head of this post shows the results of that work (if you click on the image you can see a full size version). It charts all articles (including advertisements) in the Chicago Tribune that use the term "heartland," whether or not they are referring to the American Midwest, from 1849-2006. It is a rough measure, but serviceable.

The search seems to confirm the first part of my thesis, about the timing of "heartland" popularity. The term "heartland" rarely appeared in the Tribune in any form before the mid 1940s, and remained limited in use until the late 20th century. There were only 15 articles before 1940 (none of which seem relevant), and only 8 between 1940 and 1946. From 1946-1949, there were 28 articles (perhaps half about the midwest). From there, heartland becomes an ever more attractive (and diffuse) metaphor and label. There is a big jump in the decade of the 1980s, and then an apparent leveling off.

A combined search for "heartland" and "midwest" actually yields a more dramatic curve, although a much smaller volume of articles. Once again the big jump comes in the 1980s. In the 1970s only 46 articles or ads included both terms. In the 1980s, 240 did so. 431 during the 1990s.

Why? And what does it mean? Those are the subjects of my next post or posts. Until then, for the data-inclined I offer the following related charts to ponder:

Use of "heartland" in the Tribune and the New York Times. Notice that the Times is way out ahead of the Tribune in the 1970s, but they are almost equal in the '90s. An example of cultural diffussion? Or just New Yorkers' love of the exotic other?

Use of "global" in the Tribune and the New York Times

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Genealogy of a Project

The Global Heartland project (GH, for short) has a complicated history. This blog is a late addition to something I have been working on for several years, a digital project with my old employer the Newberry Library. In the next few months we'll be rolling out a long-delayed redesign of that project, and hopefully opening it for public comment. In the meanwhile, I'll be posting some draft text for that project, and and some things that are more like "notes."

But before we go there, allow me to offer a brief genealogy of the project.

It began several years ago during a summer vacation to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Somewhere in the Keewenaw I was reading some text on a map that listed two interesting facts. One was that the Cliff Mine was allegedly the most profitable mine ever (apparently based on investment vs. revenue), and second that the Calumet and Hecla mines earned some millions and millions and millions of dollars (the specifics I now forget) for their Boston investors. I then began a long epiphanic moment that lasted from Hancock all the way to Copper Harbor. Looking at the wooded countryside rushing by my window, pulling into a passed-over Calumet, passing abandoned mine shafts, rocky outcroppings covered in birch and white pine--all of it territory I had been through several times before--the landscape came alive with ghosts. Ghosts of people, ghosts of ore, ghosts of landscapes past; the apparitions swirling about, reaching into the old mines and all the way to Boston, all the way to Finland, into the house I grew up in with its copper sink, and into every early 20th century house in North America wired and plumbed with copper wire.

This out-of-the-way place reached across the globe, into the lives of people whose daily practices gave little or no mind to the chain of connections that linked their kitchen sink and light switch to the drama of immigration, the struggles of mineworkers, and the vast profits to be made from converting the earth's natural wealth into wires, sinks, and pennies.

Soon after I wrote a proposal for a book called "Transnational Midwest" that would have taken on this topic. Let's just say the fates of funding were not smiling on that version of the project (in the meanwhile there have been some good books covering similar territory). So I converted the book project into a digital resource project for the Library. If it was funded at least it would keep me working on the topic, and cover some of the costs of my research center. Around the same time I submitted a proposal to a different funder for an exhibition on the history of free speech activism in Chicago. The two projects had slightly different time frames, so it all seemed doable--it always does.

Then my wife announced that she was pregnant with twins. To my great surprise, both projects were funded. Not so surprisingly the twins were born about 9 months later. I finished the text of the exhibit at 9 pm on June 20th, 2004, my wife went into labor at 7 am the next day, and the girls were born 34 hours later. The next few months are still a blur. Not much sleep with two newborns in the house--oh yes, and then we moved to a new apartment. Jen Koslow took over running the center (thanks Jen!!), and I used all my vacation and sick leave to take the summer off. The exhibit opened on October 1st. But my short-term memory didn't come back for about a year.

It would be fair to say that the project officially known as the "North American Midlands Website Project: Resources for Teaching and Learning American History in a Global Perspective" has suffered from my over-extended commitments, despite the heroic efforts of Doug Knox who stepped in as project director, and Aaron Shapiro our Center's Assistant Director. In the fall of 2005 I took a job at the UI, and soon discovered that the GH project was utterly incomprehensible to many of my new colleagues--especially the ones who would be voting on my tenure case. This slowed the project down quite a bit as I changed research emphasis in a futile effort to fit the expectations of the department. Recently, that problem was happily taken care of, and I will soon be employed by an institution that at least won't penalize me for doing the project. So I'm back at work on GH, and happy to be here.

So in the next few weeks I will be posting some project text to this blog, and if my readers would like to comment, you will be contributing to the project as a whole. Also, you may have noticed that I have set up a GH group on Flickr, and I invite you to submit photographs you have taken that reflect connections between the local and global, or the obscuring, hiding, and forgetting of said connections.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chicago Labor History Map Goes Online


A few years ago when I was still working at Chicago's Newberry Library, I had the opportunity to help out with a project to create a labor history map of Chicago. This was coordinated by Leon Fink and drew on the energy of graduate students at the University of Illinois Chicago and Northwestern University, as well as Lisa Oppenheim of the Chicago Metro History Education Center, members of the Illinois Labor History Society, the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies, the Illinois Humanities Council, and the Newberry.

The result was The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working Class Life and Struggle, which was an attractive fold-out map with several neighborhood walking/driving tours. This resource has now been repackaged online, making it more accessible and interactive. As the title suggests, the map tries to place the history of the labor movement into the context of working class life.

In addition to serving up neighborhood tours, the new site provides links to video of Chicago labor leaders nominating historic sites at public meetings sponsored by the ILHS and the Chicago Center for Working Class Studies. I recommend Ed Sadlowski on the Steel Industry and the roundtable on Labor in the Black Metropolis.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Teaching Globalization

Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie.
Yesterday I was up in Alsip, Illinois, at the IBEW Apprenticeship school to help out with our "Solidarity 101" program. This is a two-day crash course in Labor Studies taught by the Labor Education faculty. We are outsiders coming into an ongoing educational process, and we get the good and the bad from that position.

My role in this program has been to teach sessions on contemporary economics, particularly on globalization. That's right, globalization in 2 hours. I've been jiggering my lesson since day one, and finally have found something that works: a lesson plan by Bill Bigelow called the "Transnational Capital Auction," which is in two of his books, Rethinking Globalization and The Line Between Us: Teaching about the Border and Mexican Immigration. You can get it from Rethinking Schools.

It's a remarkably effective lesson plan for explaining the "Race to the Bottom" concept, and for understanding the pressures on developing nations to lower their living standards. It's also a very hands-on example of how ideology works to conform social actors to the needs of capital.

Students break into teams. They play the role of ruling elites in developing, post-colonial nations. I play the role of Transnational Capital. The goal is to get some development capital into your country. Over five rounds, teams bid on my investment. Bids are figured through a set of social indicators (minimum wage, child labor, worker rights, and environmental laws, and taxation on profits). The worse your social indicators, the higher your "friendly to capital" score. But you can't just grind your people into the ground. The team with the third highest "friendly to capital" points gets the most "Game Points," which is what you need to win. This last rule makes the game more strategic and more engaging for students. But the educational point is that "Capital" wants a balance between poverty and order. Too much poverty brings disorder, and potential revolution, and that's bad for capital. The students "get it."

During the bidding, I circulate around the room reiterating the basic outlines of the game, collecting bids, and promoting the interests of capital: "remember, winning is everything;" "remember, you have to compete against the other teams, you don't want those other countries to get ahead of you, do you?" I notice that most are opting strategically for high wages and bad conditions--"at least we'll eat," they say. "What is the largest piece of an employers budget?" I ask. "Wages and benefits," they say. In the next round, minimum wages drop.

The trend of game is usually the same: the friendly to capital scores go up round after round, sometimes dramatically as teams try to catch up or strategically bid high to win some Game Points. Their bid in the final round, you tell them, is what their people will have to live with. "So what is life like for common people in your country now?" I ask. Minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, no child labor laws, troops stationed in the factories. In short, "Hell," they respond.

Time's up. Go to your next class. Half the class stays with me, the other is off to learn about the impact of recent elections on labor law, etc.

My sections replay the Auction, this time not as elites but as representatives of workers, farmers, etc. They struggle to do well by their constituents, but the logic of the game moves them toward declining wages and conditions. "Remember, winning is everything" I say in my role as "capital." One team asks alound, "What if we all got together. We could agree on minimum wages." I stop talking and try to hide in the corner so they can organize. The response from other teams: "now you say that, but you were just trying to cut our throats. It's every man for himself"--this is actually said by one of the few women in the room. "Winning is everything," I say trying hard to be ironic. But the game moves on to the inevitable conclusion: "hell."

In the wrap up, the students talk about how they felt powerless to resist the logic of the game. We talk about what life would really be like for workers under these conditions, and what people might do in response. They might leave their homes and come to the US, someone says. But there really isn't enough time to go into a long discussion, just enough to reiterate that "capital" is seen as "America" in many parts of the world, and to mention something about Lula and other leaders who are trying to avoid what they just did: play the transnational capital auction for the benefit of common people. Not so easy to do.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Minneapolis Labor History

Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie.
Last weekend I was up in Minneapolis for the annual Social Science History Association conference. On Saturday morning I joined about 30 other scholars for a Labor History Tour of Minneapolis guided by Dave Riehle of the Transport Workers Union. The focus was on the 1934 Teamsters Strikes (this photo is of historian Darryl Holter looking at a picture from the strike that is part of an exhibit a light rail station).

We also got a good taste for the rest of the city's history including a few things I didn't know about thanks to historian Peter Rachleff of Macalester College, who is also the incoming president of the Working Class Studies Assoication. In particular I learned that Elliott Park in Minneapolis was an outdoor free speech center much like Bughouse Square. I'll be looking into that in the future.

The 1934 Teamsters General Strike was one of three local struggles during the Great Depression that pushed the federal government to enact collective bargaining legislation. Along with the Autolite strike in Toledo and the West Coast Longshore strike, the Teamsters strike was notable for the participation of unemployed workers, for radical leadership, for highly coordinated strike support activities, and for employer repression in collusion with the local state. These events made Americans think that revolution might be around the corner.

Today it almost seems unbelievable that the cutting edge of revolution was largely in the Midwest, and the Minneapolis tour made clear one reason it is so hard to imagine. The physical landscape of Midwestern cities has been erased by "development." Much more so than in Chicago, the buildings and neighborhoods that housed Minneapolis's labor history are no longer standing. And according to Riehle and Rachleff, you'll have a hard time finding any workers in the new "Mill City Museum," which is build partially inside an old grain mill along the Mississippi River. However, the city's Central Labor Council has sponsored the digitization of the Minnapolis Labor Review from 1907 to the present. And that is no small affair for a labor council!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Local Struggles, Global Symbols

Cross posted from Bughouse Square

The American election results made the headlines in Mexico, even if US media have for the moment forgotten not only about Oaxaca, but the rest of the world as well. Cautiously welcoming the Democratic victory, Mexicans hope for a more nuanced, less strident discussion on immigration and "border security."

No doubt there will be a change in tone from the US Congress. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), cheers the election as well, headlining: "IMMIGRATION FAILS AS WEDGE ISSUE FOR GOP" citing a survey of election results from Immigration 2006.
"Our preliminary analysis of last night’s results strongly suggest that very few toss up races were won by Republican candidates who attempted to exploit immigration as a voter motivator. Democrats that back comprehensive immigration reform mostly won their races. And the Republican Party is likely to get smaller as its hard line on immigration drives away Hispanic voters."
A bit over optimistic to my way of thinking. But the new political landscape in Washington will make a difference. We will probably see the new leadership move to pass the previously-stalled "comprehensive" reform package that includes amnesty for some, deportation for more than a million, and a guest worker program that will cycle millions of disenfranchized workers in and out of the US economy. The guest worker program is favored by Bush and leading Dems (it is supported by SEIU, but opposed by AFL-CIO), so it's an obvious choice for those seeking to prove their bipartisan cred.

I am not so sure that guest workers will go down well with the American workers who just put the Dems in office, and that dynamic will be interesting to watch. Take a quick look at what union folks are complaining about at the Fox Valley Labor News: the spectre of a Canada-US-Mexico superstate that would throw out the US Constitution. This conspiracy theory is being pushed by a group of ultra-right wingers, and it came up among a group of Steelworkers I taught last summer.

If the Democratic leadership simply pushes the Kennedy immigration bill for swift passage, I think it will backfire. Instead, the Dems would be wise to foster an honest dialogue on immigration, free from the shrill racism, jingoism, and demogogery of the last few years. After that, maybe we can have new laws, new programs.

Back in Oaxaca, the fire burns on and Ulises Ruiz's hold on office gets more tenuous. No doubt he's just holding on until December 1st. If he resigns before then, there will be a new election--which the PRD will probably win. After December 1st, the PRI-PAN alliance can name a replacement.

There is a very nice analysis by Laura Carlson of the International Relation Center that takes in the whole situation and its relation to neoliberalism, free trade and globalization. This is one of those rare articles that is measured, historically informed, and forward looking. And this is what inspires the title of my post:

If the movement for global justice were a territorial battle, Oaxaca would be a tiny point on a very large map, of little consequence except to the people involved. But symbolic battles, although very real for the combatants themselves, are the true terrain of the movement for global justice. They offer an opportunity, even when lost, to defeat the myths that uphold the system.

And why does this strike me so today? Because I'm reading James Green's excellent new book on nineteenth century American class society, Death in the Haymarket so I can teach it to a group of union leaders. (If you need a quick version of the Haymarket story, go to the Encyclopedia of Chicago). As a historian who lived in Chicago for five years, I have to admit I had grown a little tired of Haymarket. After a few hundred retellings, it gets old. But if it lost something in the telling, the story has always captured something visceral in me whenever I have encountered one of the spaces and memorials of the event.

Green sets the story of the bombing in Chicago's Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886, within a rich context of immigrant working class life and class warfare that took on an intensely personal character even as it symbolized wider struggles. The Chicago anarchists certainly understood the symbolic, and they saw themselves as part of a trans-Atlantic, if not quite global, movement. And ironically, over time the Chicago martyrs became much more known outside of the US than they were inside.


As Oaxaca is today, Chicago in 1886 was a local conflict on the cutting edge of "globalization." A very different form of globalization, and a different form of struggle, but both are local struggles with global symbolism.

In a sense, the two came together last May 1st when a huge march of immigrants--largely Mexicans and other Latin Americans marched through Haymarket Square. The new, powers-that-be-approved memorial wasn't the focus of the march, as it was of the CFL-sponsored labor day rally later the same day. But it was also more than just something passed along the way. The organizers clearly understood the symbolism of May 1st, and they chose their path to connect their struggle with the Chicago martyrs.

These are my rather jumbled thoughts on this, November 11, the anniversary of the hanging in Chicago of Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel in 1887.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Autobiography and Everyday Artifacts of Globalization

Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie.
Like every intellectual project, there are certain autobiographical tendencies in Global Heartland. I was raised in the midwest, and although I have lived in other parts of the US and have traveled to other parts of the world, I have spent most of my 40 years very close to the Great Lakes. The Lakes and the world that has grown up around them are my cultural home, and my spiritual anchor.

In less than a year, I will move far away from all of this to take a job in the History Department of a certain public university in Southern California. So this blog is a last chance to document my impressions of the midwestern landscape and culture before we move away, and inevitably it will be something of a nostalgia trip. Although I promise to keep the nostalgia level down, I don't think I can do this blog without periodic doses of personal history. So to keep it real, I will try to connect the personal to the global as much as possible, and so am introducing a posting category: everyday artifacts of globalization.

I spent about 10 summers in northern Michigan at a YMCA summer camp, first as a camper and then as an employee leading wilderness trips. As it happens, this camp was pretty close to East Jordan, Michigan, and I recall driving by the foundry there several times. So when I moved to Champaign, Illinois, in the early 1990s I immediately noticed that most of the storm drains were stamped "EAST JORDAN IRON WORKS," and it made me feel a little more at home.

Later, when I was writing my dissertation, I discovered that the sociologist who wrote the seminal work on transient workers, Nels Anderson, grew up near East Jordan, and his immigrant father worked in the foundry to supplement the income from the family's farm. The iron works was established in 1883, when northern Michigan's white pine forests were being clear cut by a largely immigrant workforce to supply the nation with telegraph poles and construction timber.

East Jordan was not a big town then, and it's probably smaller now. So I was very surprised to discover that the East Jordan Iron Works is a multinational corporation with foundries in Ireland, France, Brazil, and Asia, as well as in the American South. It found a market niche for cast iron--storm drains, meter boxes, etc.--and bucked the trend of the US steel industry, all the while maintaining its headquarters in a decidely out-of-the-way place.

All of this is to say that artifacts of globalizations past and present are literally right under our feet. More later.

This exit: transnational communities!

Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie.
A big buzz concept in globalization studies is the idea that the labor migrations associated with contemporary globalization have created "transnational communities" and identities. Migrants don't give up their home identities, but keep up contacts with the home country through telephone, email, tapes, what have you. And of course, they send back money. The exchange of emotional and material capital between home and away changes home too. Both ends of the migration are transformed into a new, transnational community.

Last week on our way back from a conference in Madison we got off the interstate in LaSalle, Illinois, where I took this photo of the Slovenian Catholic Church--vintage early 20th century. I've seen plenty of church facades like this one in Chicago. But it was remarkable to see this and about 10 other churches--mostly Catholic--in this small coal mining town on the Illinois River. It is a marker of how the global migration of the 19th and early 20th century reached even into the small town midwest. My friend Caroline Merithew wrote her dissertation on these towns and their immigrant communities. Where's the book, Caroline!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Agribusiness Vernacular Achitecture

I often drive Intersate 57 between Champaign and Chicago, Illinois, and for the past 5 years or so have been intrigued by the industrial facility on the west side of the highway near Gillman. There isn't a lot of industry out that way, other than grain elevators, truck stops, and the like.

This is the soybean oil extraction facility of Incobrasa Industries, Ltd. According to EPA documents on the web, it's owners are three residents of Gillman, one of whom is also the plant manager. Forgive me if I'm dubious, but there has got to be a sugar daddy behind this local industry. Maybe its the half-mile long line up of tanker cars with "INCOBRASA INDUSTRIES" on the side?

What has always caught my eye about this plant is that--quite unlike the ADM and Staley plants in Decatur--this plant is clearly intended to invoke the vernacular buildings of countryside around it. The buildings are painted in a neutral brown, similar to the color of ripe soybean fields. And driving south or north, it is hard to miss the gigantic structure with a distinctly barn-like roof. They even left a small farm house standing on the property, apparently little used, but there to help make this outsized facility "blend in" somehow. Why bother, I wonder with all the pretense?

Pictures taken, my mission is complete. I'm on my way to Chicago, home of real gritty industry. File this one in "for further research."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Decatur, harvest time: that giant sucking sound

Driving home yesterday from a meeting in Springfield, I decided to take a detour through Decatur. I haven't been there since the mid 1990s when it was known as the "War Zone."

The smell is unmistakable. If you have ever brewed beer at home, its something like the smell of wort cooking. Combine that with the smell of wet cat food, and throw in something that burns the nose a little.

I didn't have a camera with me, so I'll go back soon. You can see the plants looming on the horizon from I-72. I exited on IL-48 and followed the trucks down Brush College Road past Richland Community College and on to the massive Archer Daniels Midland facility (see Decatur on Wikimapia). The soybean fields grow right up to the fence. Probably 50 trucks were lined up waiting to dump their beans. As you travel on south, you pass under a pipeline that heads to the west. ADM built it during the lockout at A.E. Staley to deliver product to their supposed competitor, and help break the union.

After you drive under the pipeline and some tracks, you pass the well-groomed ADM research facility. Then turning right on you travel west on a parkway that becomes "Eldorado Street." Cresting a hill you can see a tall office building with a 1930s look. It's the old Staley headquarters, now owned by Tate & Lyle, a UK based multinational that supplies the world with sweets. I can't remember if the black chain link fence topped with barbed wire was there in the pre Tate and Lyle days. Staley was famous as a community-minded employer, and the grounds look more like a park. Did the fence go up during the lockout?

The smell is getting stronger as you turn right on 22nd Street and go up over the plant and the rail yard. Corn sweetener. The ex-Staley facility is huge, spreading out along the rail yard. It's a jumble of tubes, conveyer belts, pipes, and smoketacks. I remember marching over this road during the lockout. Definitely looking like "dark satanic mills."

I turned around in the parking lot of a diner and headed back over the viaduct, then east on Eldorado (IL-105) toward Monticello. As you leave the town behind, crossing Lake Decatur--no doubt the source of cheap power and water--you are quickly back in the countryside. But now somehow the beauty of the harvest time colors is drained away. It isn't that this is news to me, but seeing ADM and Staley again brings home the fact that the agriculture of this whole region is geared toward a very, very industrial process.

Ross Perot famously warned that NAFTA would create a "giant sucking sound" as U.S. jobs were pulled to Mexico. Here in central Illinois, on the first day of fall weather, I hear a different sucking sound. The sound of beans and corn scraped from the land and into the wet mills of Decatur. And from the grounds of ADM and Tate & Lyle go forth the veggie burgers, the ethanol, and the high fructose corn sweetener that feed, drive, and flavor the world.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Borders: Dividing Lines

Looking down from space at the middle of North America, it is hard to miss the deep blue of the Great Lakes. What you cannot see is the border that divides the lakes and the land around them into the United States and Canada. That invisible line defines two examples of the “nation-state,” possibly the most important invention of the modern era. Nation-states are the basic political unit of world society. Individually they organize the economic and social interactions of their citizens, and together they divide the earth and its bounty into mutually exclusive national spaces.

Borders have real consequences for the way people live: different laws, different languages, different school systems, and different opportunities. But they often separate land and people with a shared past. Far from preventing interaction between people on either side, borders organize and channel contact between nations and their people.

For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, the lakes and rivers, forests and prairies of mid-continent North America were home to cultures that did not recognize borders or property lines. In the 17th and much of the 18th centuries both sides of the future border were part of the fur trading hinterland of Montreal. France, Britain, and the United States in turn laid claims on the land around the lakes, and these shifting borders of empire and nation shaped the early history of the region. After the border between the U.S. and British Canada was set in the mid-19th century, Canadians and Americans continually crossed from one side to the other seeking work, land, and freedom. The economies of the U.S. and Canadian heartland developed in similar ways in part because of they shared one ecological zone, but the border between the nations would create distinct societies on either side.

Related Images

Nicolas de Fer, Le Cours du Missisipi, ou de St. Loüis fameuse riviere de l'Amerique septentrionale aux environs de laquelle se trouve le païs appellé Louisiane (Paris: Chez Bernard, 1718).

Emma Willard, A Series of Maps to Willard's History of the United States, or Republic of America. Designed for Schools and Private Libraries (New York : White, Gallaher & White, 1828).

"Oak Park Farm," in E. A. Heisler and D. M. Smith, Atlas Map of Johnson County, Kansas: Compiled From Actual Personal Surveys and Records (Wyandott, KS: E. F. Heisler and Co., 1874), 81.

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories

Environment: Working the Land

The landscape of every place on earth is a complex mix of natural and human creation. The region we call the Global Heartland centers on the Great Lakes of North America, and extends westward to the Great Plains, south to the Ohio River, and north to Hudson’s Bay. The region’s natural wealth has been one of its defining features. Abundant fresh water, vast forests, rich mineral deposits, and fertile soil made the region a desirable place to live and a crossroads of trade for over 300 years.

The ecological transformation that took place in North America during the 19th century is a distant echo of what is happening today in the earth’s tropical rainforests, and in the quickly industrializing zones of China and India. In North America, lumberjacks cut down the forests for houses, telegraph poles, and matchsticks. Railroads brought hunters to decimate the great herds of buffalo, and steel plows broke the thick prairie grasses to make way for farms. A century later, the farms made way for suburbs. The pristine waters of the Great Lakes—the earth’s largest basin of fresh water—became a filter for waste at the same time they provided drinking water to millions, and a transportation route for goods and people.

The expanse and beauty of the North American landscape inspired artists and poets, even as the rush of progress devoured it. By the early 20th century, a movement to preserve what was left of the older landscape was well under way. Conservationists, sometimes occupying the highest political offices, pushed for laws to separate “natural” areas from the rest of the landscape, hoping to preserve them for the benefit of all of society. In the process, conservationists often came into conflict with American Indians who continued to use the land in traditional ways, and with Euro-American landowners who claimed the right to use their land as they wished.

The resources in Global Heartland provide an opportunity to examine the changing landscape of mid-continent North America. Readers may seek information about such issues as the changing look and flow of the Chicago River, the demise of the white pine forests of the upper Great Lakes, or the transformation of the wild prairies into the most productive agricultural lands in the world. There are also primary sources related to the tourism business, the perceived benefits of getting “back to nature,” and the early stirrings of conservation movement.

Related Images

"Dubuque in Iowa," in Henry Lewis, Das Illustrirte Mississippithal: dargestellt in 80 nach der Matur aufgenommenen Ansichten vom Wasserfalle zu St. Anthony an bis zum Golf von Mexico (Düsseldorf, Arnz & Comp., 1857), 168.

"Plain Crees Driving Buffaloes Into a Pound," in Henry Hind, Narrative of the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857 (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860), vol. 1, 358

"An American Log-House," in Georges-Henri-Victor Collot, A Journey in North America (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1826), Plate 16, Edward E. Ayer Collection, Newberry Library.

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories

Community: Us and Them

Over three hundred years, the Global Heartland has seen communities struggle to avoid destruction, and new communities brought into being by migration, spiritual revelation, and political action. Communities form one of the basic building blocks of our societies. The values and ideals of communities into which we are born, or we join voluntarily, channel our desires and define us as social beings. We draw physical, economic, and emotional support from them. But communities often are exclusive, defining themselves in terms of who belongs and who does not, and within communities there are those with more power, influence and control, and those with less.

Families and communities have been important factors in the economic and political development of the region. The fur-trading economy of the 17th and 18th century, for instance, was built on family networks that often spanned the cultural divide between American Indians and European traders. The European-American farming economy that developed in the mid-19th century, likewise, drew on the labor of family members. Networks of related families often settled near each other, supporting each other with shared labor, access to credit, and leisure time entertainment. In both cases, women’s work was central to the success of the economy.

The meaning of community changed as more people moved away from farms and villages. The industrial cities of North America were too large and anonymous to be one face-to-face community. Despite this, cities harbored smaller circles of interaction—ethnic and religious neighborhoods, apartment buildings, and suburbs—where people tried to recreate older notions of community in a modern setting. And they fostered “imagined communities,” to borrow the term coined by the scholar Benedict Anderson. These imagined communities relied less on face-to-face interactions than on a shared understanding of experience and history that circulated in newspapers, books, and pamphlets.

The stories European settlers told each other about the hardships of frontier life, about their interactions with American Indians, and about the greatness of the society they were building, bound them together in an imagined community that called itself a nation. The Scots-Irish of Canada and the Yankees (Anglo-Americans who migrated west from New England) in America drew on the story of subduing a wild continent to justify their own power within Canada and the U.S. The symbols of their compelling story of nation-building—stalwart pioneers, rugged cowboys, dangerous Indians—were often adopted by newer arrivals to North America.

Imagined communities in North America had a profound impact on the history of Europe. Much as immigrants do today, those of the 19th century tried to maintain contacts with their origins by writing letters and sending money home, reading in their native language, and when possible returning home. Their lives were “transnational,” in the language of today’s scholarship, connecting old world and new despite enormous distances. Migrants living in North America, especially those from Eastern and Southern Europe, became a vital part of discussions in their home countries about the need for national independence from the German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Related Images

"Log Cabin Meeting Houses," in Joseph Smith, Old Redstone, or, Historical Sketches of Western Presbyterianism: Its Early Ministers, Its Perilous Times, and Its First Records (Philadelphia : Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1854), facing page 152.

"Heroism of a Pioneer Woman" in Henry Howe, The Great West: The Vast Illimitable, Changing West(New York: George F. Tuttle, 1860), facing page 157.

Chicago Indian Village, Virgil J. Vogel Research and Personal Papers, Box 17, Folder 13, Newberry Library.

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories

Exchange: The Culture of Things

The landscape of the Global Heartland is marked by artifacts of past and present systems of exchange: grain elevators, railways and roads, crossroad villages passed up by development, abandoned factories, gleaming office buildings and shopping malls. Before Europeans arrived, the region’s lakes and rivers were part of a system of trade that linked American Indians communities across the continent. European settlers turned Indian trails into carriage roads, and into later railways, in order to solve a problem of exchange: how to get wheat, corn, and livestock from the frontier farm to the market. They also developed a system of trading farm produce that would revolutionize diets the world over.

Along with the exchange of things and money comes the exchange of ideas and culture. Early French traders brought Jesus Christ to Native Americans along with their iron pots, guns, and wool blankets. Some Indians converted to Christianity, some rejected it, and others incorporated elements of Christian theology into their own spiritual practices. Early maps and tales of travel to the region often included images of local plants and animals descriptions of how Indians survived in North American, satisfying the demand in Europe for information about Indians and shaping the ways European settlers would imagine their interaction with their new home. In a different way, documents of the early twentieth century labor movement suggest the exchange of ideas about organizing between immigrant and American-born union activists.

These cultural exchanges were not always made between equal partners. Some buyers and sellers bring additional clout to the market. The French had firearms; commodity traders could count on a glut of wheat at harvest time as farmers rushed to cash in and settle their debts. The inequality of cultural and economic exchange has driven a number of political and social movements for reform in the Global Heartland, at times linking groups that would otherwise remain separate into communities of struggle that reshaped the terms of trade.

Related Images

Fur trade contract between François Francoeur and four voyageurs for transport of goods and purchase of beaver pelts in Michilimackinac and Chicago, 1692, Rudy Lamont Ruggles Collection, Newberry Library.

"The Garment Workers' Strike," International Socialist Review 16:5 (November 1915), 260.

William Henry Jackson, "Columbia Avenue in Manufactures Building, 1893 World's Fair," in Jackson's Famous Pictures of the World's Fair (Chicago: White City Art Co., 1895).

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories

Power: Who Rules

Who rules in the Global Heartland? The simple answer is, the governments of Canada and the United States are sovereign—they “rule over” their respective territories. But we need only scratch the surface to discover a complex network of fragmented rule shared by national and local governments, Indian communities, religious organizations, employers, households, and individuals. The sharing of rule across society and levels of government is the most visible manifestation of the history of power in the region.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the region was a theater of action for the global ambitions of European monarchies as they struggled for control of the fur trade, and what they believed would be a northern trade route to China. American Indians and European settlers continued the struggle to control the region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the making of Canada and the United States, the legal claims of Indian communities over much of the region were pushed to the margins. Reservation lands confined Indian communities, but also helped them to keep their culture alive and to assert time and again their legal rights. By the end of the twentieth century, these efforts were more and more successful, allowing Indian communities to exert long-dormant treaty rights to use the land in traditional ways and limiting the ability of national and local governments to rule over Indian Country.

In addition to the conflict over Indian land rights, readers can explore the dynamics of power through documents of free speech and civil rights movements; and in the creation of state and provincial governments. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the region witnessed some of the most dramatic conflicts of the industrial age. The Populist movement swept farmers and small communities into a struggle against the power of railroads and banks. Trade unions and radical movements in the region’s urban areas contested the power of employers, local and national governments.

Related Images

John Cary, A New Map of the United States of North America, exhibiting the Western Territory, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia &c., also the Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario, & Erie (London: J. Cary, 1805).

"Capture of Louis Riel by the Scouts Armstrong and Howie, May 15, 1885," in T. Arnold Houltain, The Souvenir Number of the Canadian Pictorial and Illustrated War News: A History of Riel's Second Rebellion and How it was Quelled(Toronto: Grip Printing and Publising Co., 1885), following page 32.

Man Ray, "Capitalism, Humanity, Government," Mother Earth 9:6 (August 1914), cover.

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories

Histories: Perspective and Time

Are things getting better or worse? To answer this question—about ourselves, our families, communities, and about humanity—we imagine ourselves balanced between the past and the future. This is, in a simple way, what the practice of History is all about. We gather up the artifacts left to us from past generations, and we make sense of them in the context of events that came later. Our present is the future of the past we study.

The region we call the Global Heartland plays a symbolic role in the history of Canada and the United States. At different times over the past 300 years, the region has symbolized wilderness beyond the reach of civilization, hope for a democratic society, wonder at the creative power of industry, and despair for the collapse of the same industries.

Visions of the region quite often vied for dominance. Thomas Jefferson structured the Northwest Ordinance as a vision of the future: the orderly settlement of newly acquired territories. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother the prophet Tenskwatawa, to the contrary, worked to secure Indian power over the region and hoped to drive out white settlers. Industrialist George Pullman believed his model town would foster harmony between workers and employers in an era of industrial strife. The labor conflict that emerged from the Town of Pullman in 1894 instead made it, and its namesake, into symbols of greed and violence. How we remember and retell these stories from the region’s past help us understand the complexity of its present.

The term “heartland” was not very much used to describe the region before the 1950s, and the term is most widely used in the US. In the last two decades of the 20th century it became more common to speak of the American Midwest as the “heartland.” Perhaps this was a reaction to the dislocations of as global trade, renewed immigration, and deindustrialization that have transformed communities and undermined the political power of the region at the national level. Talk of the “heartland” conjures up small town life, and a certain cultural sameness that is free of conflict. In short, it helps us forget globalization. Calling the region the “Global Heartland” is intended to challenge readers to see a more complex vision of the past and the present, in order that we may chart a more realistic future.

Related Images

Charles Currier and James Merritt Ives, Across the Continent: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (New York: Currier and Ives, 1868), George A. Poole III Collection, Newberry Library.

Main Gate to Works, Pullman, in The Story of Pullman, 1893.

Pictorial Map Showing the Route Travelled by the Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake (Salt Lake City: Millroy & Hayes, 1899), Everett D. Graff Collection, Newberry Library.

Borders | Environment | Community | Exchange | Power | Histories