History of the American Midwest

Matthew N. Vosmeier

Fall 2013

866-7211          vosmeier@hanover.edu

Quick Links

First Page Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9
Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14

Course description and required texts:

This course offers an overview of America's heartland from the time of European contact through the twentieth century. The term "Midwest" has been applied to a large area - as many as twelve states - and implies that there is a homogeneity about the region. In fact, the Midwest is diverse; it has a rich, complex history, and it eludes clear definition. Often characterized as hospitable and hard-working if wholesome and drab, Midwesterners themselves are unclear about what it means to be Midwestern, though they sense that there is something quintessentially American about it.

Although the course considers the Midwest as a whole, it focuses on history of the "eastern" or "lower" Midwest - the "Old Northwest" created in 1787. The seventeenth century saw interaction among Native Americans and French explorers, missionaries, trappers, and traders. Through the eighteenth century, European powers and the new United States struggled to dominate the region. In the nineteenth century, upland southerners, northerners, and European immigrants settled as boosters praised the region as one of progress, free labor, and prosperity, despite the displacement of Native Americans and racism. The twentieth century was a time of industrialization, urbanization, progressive politics and charges of provinciality, prosperity, a "rustbelt" economy, and attempts at renaissance. As we look at this history, we can ponder what being Midwestern means.

This course attends to several of the History Department's goals. Students engage significant historical issues through analysis of various sources and assessment of historical arguments and construct able interpretations through discussion and written assignments.

The required texts are:

R. David Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet
John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie
Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West
Jon C. Teaford, Cities of the Heartland: The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Midwest

Some required readings are on reserve in Duggan Library or online.

The final course grade will be calculated from the following:

Three exams. The first is a take-home exam (5%). The other two are in-class: a midterm (25%) and a final (25%). Students are expected to take the exams on the days scheduled. In cases of necessity, requests for make-ups should be made before the day of the exam.

A review (10%). Consulting the instructor, each student will choose a journal article or monograph and write a review of it. The review should state the historian's argument, the sources and methods employed, briefly summarize the text, and assess the strength of the interpretation. The review is due October 3.

A paper (7-8 pages in length) (25%). This paper will be an analysis of a topic selected by the student and approved by the instructor. A bibliography is due September 17. The paper is due November 14.

Class participation (10%) includes collegial involvement in class discussions and completion of brief assignments.

Topics and Reading Assignments:

Midwestern Distinctiveness?

Sept. 3: Introduction: The Midwest and the Nation

Sept. 5: A Midwestern Perspective?
James R. Shortridge, The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture, 1-26 (on reserve)
Graham Hutton, Midwest at Noon, xvii-xxi, 3-7 (on reserve)
Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History"

Native American Life, European Contact, and Contest for Empire

Sept. 10: Research and Writing

Sept. 12: The First Inhabitants; Native American Life
Christopher Bilodeau, "'They Honor Our Lord Among Themselves in Their Own Way': Colonial Christianity and the Illinois Indians" American Indian Quarterly 25.3 (2001): 352-377.
Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, v-vii, xiii-xvii, xxxiii-xxxv, 3-34.


Sept. 17: French Exploration and Contact
Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, 35-37, 42-45, 50-101.
Bibliography Due

Sept. 19: French Exploration and Contact
Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, 102-148.

Sept. 20: Take-Home Exam due.


Sept. 24: La Salle and the West, conclusion; British and French Contest for Empire; The American Revolutionary Era
Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, 176-214.
John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek, 25-28
R. David Edmunds, Shawnee Prophet, ix-xii, 3-27.

Sept. 26: Archives Visit (Meet in the Duggan Library Archives)
Transcription of Civil War letters for class discussion on October 29

The Northwest Territory

Oct. 1: The Old Northwest
Edmunds, Shawnee Prophet, 28-65.

Oct. 3: Native Americans in the Northwest: Prophetstown and Tippecanoe
Edmunds, Shawnee Prophet, 66-116.
Review due


Oct. 8: Native Americans in the Northwest: The War of 1812; Indian Removal
Edmunds, Shawnee Prophet, 117-190.

Oct. 10: Midterm Exam

(Fall Break begins at the end of class day, Friday, Oct. 11; Classes resume Wednesday, Oct. 16)


The Antebellum West

Oct. 17: Migration and Settlement Patterns
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 3-9, 44-60, 79-109
Joan E. Cashin, "Black Families in the Old Northwest," Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Fall 1995): 449-475.


Oct. 22: Antebellum Western Society: Politics, Religion, Reform, and Community
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 121-170.

Oct. 24: Community and Economic Change
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 173-237


Oct. 29: The Midwest and the Civil War
Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West, 1-39 (on reserve)

The Midwest Emerges

Oct. 31: Creating the Urban Network
Jon C. Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 1-47


Nov. 5: Midwestern Cities and Urban Culture, 1870-1900
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 48-101

The Midwest in the Vanguard

Nov. 7: Progressive Era Politics in the Midwest
Robert M. La Follette, La Follette's Autobiography
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 102-135.


Nov. 12: Midwest Urban Society and Community in the Progressive Era
Karen M. Mason, "Mary McDowell and Municipal Housekeeping: Women's Political Activism in Chicago, 1890-1920," in Midwestern Women, 60-75 (on reserve).
Earline Rae Ferguson, "Sisterhood and Community: The Sisters of Charity and African American Women's Health Care in Indianapolis, 1876-1920" in Midwestern Women, 158-177 (on reserve).

Nov. 14: The Midwest in the New Century
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 136-173


The Midwest, 1920-1945

Nov. 19: Critiques of Midwestern Life
Sinclair Lewis's Main Street and
Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

Nov. 21: Troubled Decades; Indiana in World War II
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 174-210
Nancy F. Gabin, "Women, Unions, and Debates over Work during World War II in Indiana," in Midwestern Women, 223-240.

Midwestern Identity since 1945


Nov. 26: Midwesterners in the 1950s and 1960s
Hugh Willoughby, from Amid the Alien Corn in Indiana History: A Book of Readings, 421-430 (on reserve)

(Thanksgiving Break begins at the close of class day. Classes resume Monday, December 2.)


Dec. 3: The Midwest since 1960
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 211-255

Dec. 5: Conclusion and Final Review
Hutton, Midwest at Noon, 163-178 (on reserve)


Dec. 11-15 Final Exam Week