In a memorable episode of The West Wing, visitors from the Cartographers for Social Justice upend CJ’s and Josh’s worldviews.
Cartographer: “The Peters projection.”
CJ: “What the hell is that?”
Cartographer: “It’s where you’ve been living this whole time.”
I’m having the same reaction to Colin Woodard’s 2011 book American Nations. He sees North America as three federations of nations. The federation we call the United States comprises nations he calls Yankeedom, New Netherland, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, The Deep South, El Norte, The Far West, and The Left Coast.
Here’s his definition of a nation:
A nation is a group of people who share — or believe they share — a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts, and symbols.”
Worldwide some nations are stateless, some align with state borders, and some cut across state borders. North America’s eleven nations are, in his view, stateless, cutting across state boundaries in ways I find disorienting but enlightening.
Until now, if you asked me where I’ve lived, I’d have said East Coast and Midwest and recently California. According to the Woodard projection I have lived in four nations: Yankeedom, The Midlands, Tidewater, and The Left Coast. It wasn’t easy to locate my homes on his map. They all occupy a narrow band of latitude. On the East Coast, that band touches three of Woodard’s nations. In two of those, Yankeedom and The Midlands, I lived near the cradles of nations that spread far north and west.
I’m from near Philadelphia, in The Midlands, “founded by English Quakers, who welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies on the shores of Delaware Bay.” That resonates. I grew up in a place called Plymouth Meeting and went to Quaker kindergarten there. It would never have occurred to me that Philadelphia is culturally closer to places as far west as Nebraska, and as far north as the province of Ontario, than to Baltimore or Boston. Likewise I never thought of Ann Arbor, where I called myself a midwesterner, as part of a culture that flowed west from Boston. Or that Baltimore sits at the intersection of three nations.
These eleven nations have been hiding in plain sight throughout our history. You see them outlined on linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologists’ maps of material culture regions, cultural geographers’ maps of religious regions, campaign strategists’ maps of political geography, and historians’ maps of the pattern of settlement across the continent.
Two of the eleven nations, Yankeedom and The Deep South, have been “locked in nearly perpetual combat for control of the federal government since the moment such a thing existed,” Woodard says.
The analysis, which builds on prior art that he cites, may be a helpful way to contextualize the 2016 US election.
“The Woodard projection.”
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s where you’ve been living this whole time.”