By Robert A. Vella
Everyone knows that North America is comprised of three large countries – Canada, Mexico, and the United States – plus the smaller nations of Central America. Everyone is also aware that the continent is primarily populated with descendant peoples from four linguistic categories: English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, French-speaking, and Native American. And, everyone has at least some understanding of the continual influx of many diverse ethnic groups from all over the world – Africa, Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. It is no surprise that America is often referred to as a “melting pot.”
However, these general cultural traits of North America paint a very diffuse picture. Great differences exist between the geographic regions and demographic distributions of North America. A typical resident of the U.S. west coast has much more in common with their Canadian neighbors to the north than with their fellow countrymen on the Gulf coast. These poorly appreciated cultural differences relate more to ideology and religion than to the more widely understood differences in language and ethnicity or even national identity.
Here’s a cultural map of North America you’ve probably never seen before:
If you’re seeing a correlation between the depicted cultural groupings and politics, it’s no coincidence. That’s probably why the author chose this color scheme. In fact, politics plays a prominent role in the ideological and religious makeup of North America. It helps to explain why the U.S. has experienced recurring episodes of internal division and polarization as is the case now.
In the following video, the author places North America’s persistent cultural differences in a political context. It’s quite fascinating and profoundly illuminating.
From C-SPAN – American Regionalism and Politics:
Colin Woodard, author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, spoke about the history of regionalism and cultural conflict in America. He used data from the 2008 and 2012 elections to dispelled “myths” about “red states” and “blue states” and explains away partisanship with the claim that our culture wars were inevitable. This public lecture in Iowa State University’s Memorial Hall was part of the 2015-16 National Affairs Series: When American Values Are in Conflict co-sponsored by Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication; National Affairs; Political Science; Technology, Globalization and Culture Series; and the Student Government funded Committee on Lectures.
Thanks, Bob! A most helpful referral to the address on regionalism. Living here in one of the northern-most reaches of Greater Appalachia in central Ohio, this makes a lot of sense.
My pleasure, Ron. I was captivated by Colin Woodard’s presentation.
Interesting presentation. (It caused me to order the book.) I wonder, however, if he overstated some of the conclusions. I’m thinking right now of the New York City discussion, to which he assigns a predominating influence to the Netherlands. It is true that the Netherlands was the cultural capital of Northern Europe at the time and had founded New York (but not just the city, the whole way up the Hudson to Albany, which Woodard hands over to Yankeeland). He concludes that New York’s trade dominance (until recently) and cultural importance stems from the Dutch heritage. But the fact is that it was Boston until the Twentieth Century which was the cultural capital of the US (the North at least). Everyone recognized that: when Whitman and Melville wanted recognition, they sought it from the Brahmins in New England. And the publishing capital of the US was in Boston. By the time New York claimed that title in the Twentieth Century, it probably had more to do with the influence of later generations of immigrants, particularly Eastern European Jews, than to the Dutch,. You would be hard pressed to find many Dutch in NYC today, except of course at the Metropolitan Museum on the walls.
I got the impression that Woodard is asserting cultural persistence in a given region irrespective of ethnic influx. At least to some extent, I think his point has merit. Look at the ingrained rivalries between Boston and NYC, such as the Red Sox-Yankees feud in baseball which dates back to the late 19th century. In other words, the demographics might change but the regional culture lingers on especially in relation to political ideology. Today, Bostonians see themselves as different from New Yorkers whether their ancestry is Irish, Italian, African-American or whatever… and vice versa.
That’s great you ordered his book. After reading it, I hope you will post a comprehensive review on your blog. I’d really enjoy that!
Thanks for the encouragement, but if I have anything to say about the book, I’ll probably submit it here. From what I can tell from WordPress analytics and search inquiries, my blog does not attract visitors interested in current events. It’s more of a one place stop for smart high school students and somewhat unmotivated college students to get their points of view for various humanities classes.