Global | Local | Middle

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