My Midwest, and yours?

logo_858_286Last week the Boston Society of Architects opened its latest exhibition, Reinvention in the Urban Midwest. In its announcement of the exhibit, the BSA noted that last year roughly 12,000 people moved to New England from the Midwest, “yet, to many New Englanders, the Midwest is an indeterminate place between here and California.”

Such an observation lead the BSA to ask where is the Midwest, and why does it matter?

Its answer, in part, came from a fantastic interactive map in which users will outline their own Midwest – fantastic integration of cultural inquiry and public digital collaboration.

While such questions have long intrigued historians, especially those of us who study “The West”, the hundred or so answers to where the Midwest sits are particularly intriguing.

First, having recently moved to what I consider the East, Iowa, I am empathetic to dozen of answers that viewed region from the outside, including journalist Jenny Xie who was lambasted on Twitter for admitting having never been to the Midwest.

However, I must take exception of the quarter of online maps that included Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and parts of New Mexico in the Midwest. Are you serious! Have you ever been to Montana? South Dakota fine, but Wyoming and Colorado? They filmed large part of The Lone Ranger in New Mexico, the western movie of the summer for Christ sakes!

OK, you are right. It is not fair for me to judge. We all define region through our own cultural understanding. This is why when we westerners read Donald Worster’s line that he knows in his bones where the West lays those of us from the region we shake our heads knowingly.

But we are invested in being from the West, just as folks in Boston are in being New Englanders. (note: never, I mean never, make the mistake of telling a Bostonian that New York is in New England. Bad mistake on my part.)

But that is only half of the role of regional identity. How region is viewed from the outside is equally, if not more important to regional identity. Just go to any tourist trap in North America.

So, log on to the BSA’s My Midwest, and mark out where you believe the region between Boston and California sits. You could learn something.

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Just remember, Colorado is in the West

by Michael W. Childers

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