I. The Midwest: An Interpretation
General Editor: Andrew R. L. Cayton, Richard Sisson, and Christian Zacher
“Prodesse quam conspici” (“To produce rather than to be conspicuous”), the motto of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is a fitting credo for the American Midwest as a whole. In the popular imagination, Midwesterners are generally considered proudly ordinary people who speak dialect-free American English and go about their business without fanfare or drama. Performers born there tend to leave, though pride in life and place is given a visible presence. Those who remain daily demonstrate the workings of a democratic culture that embodies what many people consider the fulfillment of the American Dream. Midwesterners, writes our Language Section Editor, “are thought to be strong, brave, polite, hard-working, self-effacing, self-sufficient, generous, friendly, Protestant, white, normal, average, and boring.”
The familiar midwestern landscape consists of gleaming silos and white houses sitting amidst endless green fields of corn, linked by meandering streams and asphalt highways to rectangular towns dominated by stores, banks, and professional offices along Main Streets surrounded by frame homes with wide porches decorated with hanging pots of geraniums and suffused with the aroma of fresh-baked bread. Railroads and expressways join these towns to the vertical skylines, cavernous business districts, and sprawling factories and suburban office buildings of St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Omaha, Wichita, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Indianapolis, Columbus, Detroit, and Chicago.