History of the American Midwest

Matthew N. Vosmeier

Fall 2001

866-7211          vosmeier@hanover.edu

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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.

The required texts are:

R. David Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet
John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie
Lucy Eldersveld Murphy and Wendy Hamand Venet, eds., Midwestern Women: Work, Community, and Leadership at the Crossroads
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. There are also several films.

The final course grade will be calculated from the following:

Three exams. One is a take-home essay exam (5%). Two are in-class exams: a midterm (25%) and a final (30%). 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 two-page book review (10%). Consulting the instructor, each student will choose a monograph and write a review of it. The review should state the book's argument, the sources and methods employed, briefly summarize the text, and assess the strength of the interpretation.

A paper with presentation (7-10 pages in length) (20%). This paper will be an analysis of a topic selected by the student and approved by the instructor.

Class participation (10%) includes collegial involvement in class discussions.

Topics and Reading Assignments:

Midwestern Distinctiveness?

Sept. 3: Introduction

Sept. 5: The Midwest and the Nation
Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History"

Sept 7: 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)

Native American Life, European Contact, and Contest for Empire

Sept. 10: The First Inhabitants

Sept. 12: Native American Life
Tanis C. Thorne, "For the Good of Her People: Continuity and Change for Native Women of the Midwest, 1650-1850" in Midwestern Women, 95-120

Sept. 14: French Exploration and Contact
Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West


Sept. 17: French Exploration and Contact
French Exploration and Contact Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West

Sept. 19: British and French Contest for Empire
John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek, 3-24

Sept. 20: Take-Home Exam Due by 5:00

Sept. 21: The American Revolution
George Rogers Clark, The Conquest of the Illinois, Milo Quaife, ed.

The Northwest Territory

Sept. 24: Planning the Northwest; The Northwest Ordinance, 1787

Sept. 26: Conquering the Northwest, 1790-1795: Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne
Jacob Burnet, Burnet's Notes on the North-Western Territory
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 25-43

Sept. 28: Exploring the West: The Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806


Oct. 1: The War of 1812 in the Northwest
R. David Edmunds, Shawnee Prophet

The Antebellum West

Oct. 3: Migration and Settlement Patterns: Upland Southerner and Yankee
James E. Davis, Frontier Illinois, 246-267 (on reserve)
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 44-60

Oct. 5: Life on the Western Frontier
Sarah F. McMahon, "'The Indescribable Care Devolving upon a Housewife': Women's and Men's Perceptions of Pioneer Foodways on the Midwestern Frontier, 1780-1860" in Midwestern Women, 181-203


Oct. 8: Midterm Exam

Oct. 10: Life on the Western Frontier
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 61-118

Oct. 12: Reform on the Frontier: Revivalism and Utopian Communities
Peter Cartwright, Autobiography, 43-49 (on reserve)
Thomas and Sarah Pears, letters in New Harmony, An Adventure in Happiness, Thomas Clinton Pears, Jr., ed., 7-11, 12-15, 35-40, 70-74 (on reserve)

(Fall Break begins at close of class day: class resumes Wednesday, Oct. 17)


Oct 17: Politics and Community in the Antebellum West
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 121-170

Oct. 19: Economic Development; Indian Affairs


Oct. 22: Community and Economic Change
Faragher, Sugar Creek, 173-237

Oct. 24: The Midwest and the Civil War
Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West, 1-39 (on reserve)

The Midwest Emerges

Oct. 26: Creating the Urban Network
Jon C. Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 1-47


Oct. 29: Midwestern Cities and Urban Culture, 1870-1900
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 48-101

The Midwest in the Vanguard

Oct. 31: Progressive Era Politics in the Midwest
Robert M. La Follette, La Follette's Autobiography

Nov. 2: Midwestern Women 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
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


Nov. 5: The Midwest in the New Century
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 136-173

The Midwest, 1920-1945

Nov. 7: Critiques of Midwestern Life
Sinclair Lewis's Main Street and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio

Nov. 9: The Rural Midwest
Dorothy Schweider, "Changing Times: Iowa Farm Women and Home Economics Cooperative Extension in the 1920s and 1950s," in Midwestern Women, 204-222


Nov. 12: Troubled Decades
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 174-210

Nov. 14: Indiana in World War II
The Town (film)
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. 16: Midwesterners in the 1950s
Hugh Willoughby, from Amid the Alien Corn in Indiana History: A Book of Readings, 421-430 (on reserve)
Hoosiers (film)


Nov. 19: The Midwest since 1970
Irene Campos Carr, 'Making Rate': Mexicana Immigrant Workers in an Illinois Electronics Plant" in Midwestern Women, 241-256
Breaking Away (film)

(Thanksgiving Break begins at close of class day, Nov. 20, and class resumes Nov. 26)


Nov. 26: Rust Belt
Teaford, Cities of the Heartland, 211-255

Nov. 28: Presentation and Discussion of Papers

Nov. 30: Presentation and Discussion of Papers


Dec. 3: Midwestern Identity
Hutton, Midwest at Noon, 163-178 (on reserve)
Papers Due

Dec. 5: Midwestern Identity

Dec. 7: Conclusion and Final Review

Dec. 13-17 Final Exam Week