Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Is Pittsburgh in the Midlands?, a redux

One of the great American Nations debates is whether Pittsburgh should be in the Midlands (it should!) or in Greater Appalachia (which some argue for.) For the past five years, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff columnist Brian O'Neill has been occasionally revisiting this question, starting in 2013, with a personal lament that I put his city in the Midlands, and again earlier this year, when he conceded the Appalachian label might not be quite right either.

This week he calls in a third party perspective with this delightful conversation with a self-identified Appalachian, Eric Jester, who argues for an Appalachian identity for the city.

"It's an ambitious man who defines the identity of a people who struggle [to] do so for themselves," Jester says. "The Appalachian in me loves the way a ridgeline dips into some tight little holler with a name like Scotia or Calamity; the way an orange stream dances around and under a tight winding road to the Youghiogheny; the way those fading miners' hoses sag a little in the middle."

Hope you enjoy the piece as I did.

For the record: I'm sticking with the Midlands, though I certainly agree that county-level resolution doesn't capture the subtleties of even first order regional cultural geography. But this placement is due to early settlement history, and to revealing events like the 1794 (Appalachian) siege of the city during the Whiskey Rebellion and not, as Jester writes, because of some "assumption that a beautiful city, a center of education and technology, and an historical hotbed of progressivism, could ever be associated with Appalachia." Greater Appalachia has a great many cities with most or all of those attributes -- Cinci, Louisville, Roanoke, Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem, Nashville, Dallas, and Austin, just to name a few -- and the region pretty much gave us the "democracy" part of our liberal democracy, much to the trepidation of most of the Founders.

Now if only we could get Columbus's columnists to weigh in on that city's inverted status: Appalachian in American Nations, with many residents arguing for the Midlands.....


  1. Hey Colin! I generally like your "American Nations" idea, but I think there are a few areas in which the border could be cleaned up to include the right counties in the right nations, so I made a slightly revised map. A lot of thought, effort, and research went into this. You can view it here: https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/a832s2/colin_woodards_american_nations_revised/
    And to fit the cultural American Nations TODAY, not maybe perhaps what they were 100-200 years ago. I know your map is at least somewhat hampered by the fact that you have to make borders relevent for all time (but even then, there are some that don't make sense, like Toledo.).
    If there's any change you disagree with (and I know there are), you may ask me and I am prepared to provide an answer based on data to back it up. Thank you, and have a nice day.

    P.S. I am a huge fan of your work, however some of your borders in rural counties always struck me as either poorly thought out and lazy, drawn to make the borders look "nice and clean" even if it didn't necessarily correspond with the best regional definition, or just odd, though I agree with your fundamental concepts and arguments. I also put a few regions that can't really be considered either region, or have lots of data and arguments and anecdotes even to back up their placement in two regions, as their own, "border" regions, with the main ones being the West Great Plains, Central Florida, and El Valle Central Del Sur. In order to qualify as a "border region" a region must not simply be a few borderline counties that could be considered either nation, but rather have a distinct culture of their own that people who have been there acknowledge.

    What was the purpose of this post? Well, you see, one of the most common passtimes for people to do with your map is to redraw state borders based on it. https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-redraw-US-state-borders-to-make-it-more-efficient On my Reddit account, I have attempted to do this many times, albeit with my own personal revisions worked in. A fourth state map is coming up soon, and it will be better then ever (probably corresponding largely with SUBDIVIDING the regions that I have drawn into smaller parts. When I looked into it and did some research, most of your borders (yes, even the Dakotas one) made sense to me, some did not.

    I found it funny to see Redditors roasting the hell out of borders I largely got from you, ESPECIALLY in my Canada maps, however, I still stick to some borders and hold that those Redditors don't know what they're talking about, as many provide little more than anecdotes to refute your claims.

    When I was drawing state maps while making minor revisions and observing data plus listening to anecdotes (and yes, I made sure to confirm EVERY SINGLE ONE of your American Nations borders that I kept with my own information, ones that I couldn't were switched, so don't accuse me of plagarism. Anyway, on my first state-post I cited your map as a source, so that should be good enough.), I noticed that most corresponded to your "American Nations" (this is a "midlands state", this is a "Greater Appalachia" state) but some did not. Some shared an equal amount of data with both regions, so that they could be considered a subregion of both. However, since these regions were destined to become their own states anyway, the "technicality" of which nation they belonged to in my book didn't really matter, since knowing the exact, most accurate version of your "American Nations" was only a means to an end to use to redraw state borders based on culture, identity, and settlement patterns.

    You DO believe that redrawing state borders based on your "American Nations" would be a good idea, right?

    Anyway, thanks for reading. And being an inspiration. Or whatever.

    1. Thanks much; I'll have a look.

      On your last question: I'm agnostic. In many cases splitting states on these borders would be impractical, at least without adding them to neighboring rump states from the same region. But if someone hatches a plot to split up a state -- California comes to mind -- they'd be foolish to ignore the borders. (A little on that here: https://medium.com/s/balkanized-america/where-do-you-draw-the-line-1d1abd8c022e )

    2. Hello, Colin Woodard! I posted this over a year ago, but it was my most recent in a series of maps dedicated to attempting to redraw U.S. state borders along your lines, with a few modifications: https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/b1mwcq/proposed_us_state_map_based_on_cultural_regions/

      Now,I would argue there are a couple major and minor gaps in your map, though I agree with the fundamental theory. For one, why is the Toledo area not in Yankeedom? It certainly is quite culturally similar to Detriot, it is politically closer to Yankeedom cities than Midland ones, it speaks a Yankee "northern" dialect, the most common Protestant church is the Lutheran church (the Mainline one), etc. I don't think the fact that Ohio won the Toledo war proves that Toledo is part of the Midlands any more than I think that the fact that the Union won the Civil War proves that the Confederacy was part of Yankeedom. The only piece of evidence that the Toledo area (Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, and Sandusky counties) are part of the Midlands I could find on the internet was simply the results of the 1860 election. However, a few counties in "Yankeedom" also voted for Douglass, so I don't see that enough of a disqualifying factor.

      I know the REAL reason you included Toledo in Yankeedom: Because it created a convenient point to connect it with the Midlands in Canada. However, it would almost make more sense to connect that area through Michigan, as I would argue Branch and Hillsdale counties certainly seem Midland, data-wise, and debatably all of lake-coastal Wisconsin.