Remaking the Heartland: Middle American Since the 1950's | Robert Wuthnow | 376 pages | 2013
Wuthnow, a Midwest native and Princeton scholar, revisits Middle America and examines a region whose history is often overlooked by historians. Through the lens of major American historical episodes like the Great Depression and World War II and more abstract but no less impactful experiences like the migration of blacks and Hispanics to the region, Wuthnow argues that the Midwest has undergone enormous social and cultural transformations since 1900 and proven itself surprisingly resilient in the face of tremendous hardship. Arguing for a redefinition of the role of the Midwest in American history, Wuthnow suggests the oft-overlooked region is a microcosm for American exceptionalism- but without resorting to the sorts of oversimplification other analysts of the region tend to resort to. Nowhere in the book will the reader find ‘Midwestern values’ or ‘hard work’ or ‘family tradition’ factored. Wuthnow’s is the analysis of a social scientist, not a cheerleader.
Wuthnow delves deeply into subjects which are visceral to any native Midwesterner: the erection of great public education systems and the challenge of their maintenance, the decline of small towns, the rapid expansion of suburban cities and cultural redefinition via migration and assimilation of non-whites, and the ongoing reinvention of modern agriculture.
Throughout, Wuthnow chooses to argue not for the terminal and unarrestable decline of Middle America. Nor does he strike an unrealistically optimistic tone about the prospects for the region. By identifying and examining structural phenomena like education and agriculture which cut to the bone of what the Midwest was, is, and may be in the future, he renders a reliable, unbiased account of a region with a fascinating past and uncertain future.