Midwesterners often bristle at their region being dismissed as “flyover country.” Recently there’s been increased scholarly interest in the region, its culture and history. As part of that revival, in early September the University of Nebraska Press published the first issue of Middle West Review, said to be the only academic journal to focus on the region.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction by editor Paul Mokrzycki that explains the journal’s aims. It’s a sort of manifesto of what the endeavor should be:
A Revival and a Burial
Since about the midpoint of the twentieth century, the study of the American Midwest has steadily lost appeal, while the scholarly subfields of the US South and West have boomed. Today, no fewer than ten institutions of higher learning boast centers dedicated to the historical study of the American West and Southwest, and numerous universities in southern states support comparable institutes focused on the US South.
Conversely, only three such centers exist for the study of the Midwest, none of which have the esteem or the historiographical influence enjoyed by institutes for southern and western studies. . . . Further, while colleges and universities in the western US, for instance, regularly offer courses in the history of the West, few— if any— academic institutions in the Midwest train their students to think critically about the region in which they live.
Recently scholars from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences have endeavored to redress these discrepancies in regional treatment. Earlier this year, the Humanities Without Walls (hww) consortium, comprising fifteen major research universities throughout the Midwest, received a generous $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund inter-institutional research on the “global Midwest” and its economic and cultural salience. Scholars at the hww schools are now in the midst of developing projects about the region in which they reside—and its international impact.
Historian Jon K. Lauck has garnered attention from renowned historian Richard White and others for his new book “The Lost Region,” which seeks to stimulate a “revival” of midwestern history.
Further, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa hosted a symposium in 2012 on the Latino Midwest, and faculty at the university are presently working to develop a Latino/a studies minor to reflect the population’s expanding imprint on the state of Iowa. To proffer just one more example, a recent special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, entitled “Queering the Middle,” interrogates the subjectivities of lgbtq individuals living in the American Midwest. Its diverse essays— which touch on everything from Chicana lesbian activism in Chicago to masculinity and gender nonconformity on the Great Lakes— seek to queer the Midwest and challenge pervasive conceptions of the region as “normative.”
The Middle West Review belongs within this broader project of reenergizing and reimagining the study of the American Midwest. But we must be wary of what we purport to be reviving.
A renewed emphasis on Midwestern studies should not replicate the silences and omissions that marred some earlier scholarship on the region. It should not privilege the privileged or depict a romantic past ostensibly disrupted by rabble rousers from below. It should not obscure the racial, class, gendered, and religious tensions within the Midwest or shy away from difficult questions about identity, historical memory, and oppression both past and present.
It should not treat the Midwest as a site of uncontested progress,a region invariably on the “right side of history.” It should not pretend that Jim Crow never reared his ugly head in Wisconsin or Iowa. It should not hesitate to interrogate what it means to be black, Latino/a, Muslim, queer, Asian American, Native, or white in the Midwest. It should not recapitulatethe myths that cast the Midwest as a yeoman’s dream, a blank rural canvas. It should not valorize conquest. It should not paper over the violent colonialism that gave the region its color and shape. But, at the same time, it should not ignore the region’s virtues— which have contributed to its unique character— or the “dailiness” of midwestern life.
We therefore seek a broad and inclusive field, one that serves as an open forum for scholarly and deliberative discussion from various points of view; one that focuses on the history and contemporary experience of the American Midwest as a region ; one that dares to innovate; and one that transcends the limitations of prior writing and thinking about the Midwest.
To learn more about the Middle West Review, visit http://uimiddle.wordpress.com/
To subscribe to the journal, visit http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Middle-West-Review,676024.aspx
For more information: contact Leslie Reed, national news editor, University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 472-2059.