American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – by Colin Woodard – A Book Review – Part 1

This book has several faults.  One is that the author is an enormous progressive bigot.  He allows his sympathies with the progressive areas of the country to shade almost every aspect of the descriptive and critical content of the book.  Another fault is that he has subsumed the work of earlier authors and glossed over any ideas that don’t fit his world view.  But despite these ugly qualities the book provides a lot of very important information that can be valuable if carefully interpreted.

The thesis of the book is that the foundational cultures that colonized North America along with the remaining older cultures (Native American and Hispanic) account for the regional differences that still determine how people think, live and vote.  And that I think is a remarkable fact and taken along with an understanding of the motivations and psychology of these regional groups provides us with a better understanding of why things are happening the way they are and what best to do to influence the outcome of political and social struggles.

The clearest way to start thinking of what this book can tell us is to look at a map that divides most of North America by how it was colonized.  https://www.twincities.com/2013/11/16/which-of-this-writers-11-american-nations-do-you-live-in/

As a list, the Nations of the title are

  • Yankeedom
  • New Netherland
  • The Midlands
  • Tidewater
  • Deep South
  • New France
  • Greater Appalachia
  • El Norte
  • The Far West
  • The Left Coast
  • First Nation

What you’ll see is that the original Massachusetts colony has spread into an area that encompasses New England, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, parts of the surrounding states like Illinois (Yankeedom).  And to a slightly smaller degree Washington, Oregon and Northern California were its result (The Left Coast).  And the founding of Pennsylvania produced a discernible legacy that extends from the Atlantic in a relatively narrow band through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, then spreads into a larger area that includes virtually all of Iowa, northern Missouri, and large parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and both Dakotas.  And in fact, the strip then hooks around to include the majority of non-French eastern Canada.  All of this is denoted as the Midlands.

And in a similar way we can also see the results of the Virginia colonies (Tidewater) and the Deep South spread.  Because of the intervention of outside factors Virginia was prevented from spreading west, whereas the Carolinas went on to extend their way of life all the way down the Gulf coast to eastern Texas.

New Netherland is the Dutch founding in what is now New York City.  It is hemmed in by its neighbors to the North and South but is an extremely densely populated area with enormous commercial and financial clout.

A little less familiar is the origins of the Appalachian region.  This area was settled by lowland Scots, northern Britons and the Scots-Irish who fled poverty, oppression and civil strife in their homelands and spread out mostly from the Pennsylvanian, Virginian and Carolinian colonies to find freedom and autonomy in the mountains and forests of Appalachia and later go on to populate a wide band from western Virginia and the Carolinas to Northern Texas.  The states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and most of Illinois, Indiana and half of Oklahoma Missouri and Arkansas are the area called on this map Greater Appalachia.  More or less directly, the Appalachians, by cutting off access to the west, were responsible for the fact that the Virginia colonies never gained as much widespread power as its neighbors.

In a similar way the book goes to describe the founding and spread of the other “nations.”  New France and “El Norte” (the Mexican colonies in the southwest) are the most unfamiliar to most American readers but the information is easily digested and the way that these areas developed is relatively clear.

The Far West is the mountainous and high plains areas between the mid-west and the Left Coast that were populated in the wake of the railroads.  This area is defined by its relation to the federal government and its improvement programs.

First Nation describes the area in the north of Canada and Alaska and Greenland that are inhabited by the Inuit and other aboriginal peoples of the region.

In the next installment of this review I’ll discuss how the characteristics and ways of life of these different foundations set them in motion and how they collided with the outside world and each other over the course of several hundred years.

 

(The second part of this review is found here.)

2 thoughts on “American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – by Colin Woodard – A Book Review – Part 1

  • March 17, 2019 at 2:28 am
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    He doesn’t seem to take into consideration the values the League of the Iroquois and other Native nations had on the Founders and the spread of European civilization westward, or the influence of the Chinese on the Pacific rim.

    • March 17, 2019 at 9:23 am
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      Woodward acknowledges that the actual mix of peoples and ideas is more complicated than his thesis of the foundational basis of each of the “nations” and he addresses the other factors from time to time and of course he especially notes the role of the Native Americans component in New France and El Norte. But most of his other description of the Native American role was as victims of European agression and expansion. It’s one of his favorite themes.

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