“What states do you consider part of the Midwest?”
It was a simple question we asked Monday on Twitter. We were caught by surprise with the number of complex and disparate answers. Geographical boundaries are apparently open to wide interpretation.
Reader responses were – pun intended here – all over the map. It seemed everyone had their own, particular definition of the Midwest.
Some of you drew the Midwest along industrial lines while others drew it along agricultural boundaries. Some considered states in the Great Plains and Great Lakes their own distinct regions. Others lumped them together.
Some of you ardently advocated for Pennsylvania’s inclusion and Nebraska’s omission – and vice versa. Some people considered state lines irrelevant.
“The fact we have to ask reveals how screwy our state divisions are,” tweeted Rod Abid (@robabid).
Officially, the U.S. Census regions created by the Department of Commerce divide the Midwest into two sub-regions: The “East North Central,” which includes Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; and the “West North Central,” which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
The terminology is stilted – last we checked, the North Central was an East Coast railroad. No one mentioned the “West North Central” in any of the responses we combed through.
But Michael Nardi (@iPublicPolicy) thought that, though the titles may be off, the definitions roughly matched his perception of the Midwest. He says two Midwests exist. One comprised of the “Grain States” of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The other comprised the “Industrial States” of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York.
Others weren’t so sure about the outliers of the region – Nebraska to the west and Pennsylvania to the east. Their belonging was perhaps the most hotly debated in our impromptu Twitter discussion.
“Nebraska an easy yes. Penn., an easy no, “wrote Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks).
“Neb.? No. It’s the Plains. Western PA? Yes,” wrote Tim Logan (@tlwriter).
“Nope and nope,” wrote Scott Burgess (@autocritic).
“Simple answer. Both represented in Big Ten. Both Penn and Nebraska are Midwest,” wrote Matt Mikus (@mikusmatt).
Using the Big Ten Conference as a geographical measure aid and complicate attempts to define the region. Yes, Nebraska and Penn State are both members of the college sports conference based in Chicago. But they’re also the newest members of the 12-school conference at a time where geography is playing a diminished role in how schools determine their conference affiliations.
Besides, even the Big Ten has been vexed by the geographical conundrums presented by the Midwest.
When Nebraska was added in 2010, the conference split into two divisions. Initial expectations were they would be called the “Lakes” and “Plains” divisions. At the very least, many expected them to contain some sort of geographic reference points.
But the schools couldn’t fit neatly into those definitions and were ultimately not sorted by geography. The Big Ten elected to instead go with generic “Legends” and “Leaders” names for the respective divisions. (A local sports columnist was not impressed).
Another key sticking point for our readers was Pittsburgh. At the crossroads of Appalachia, the Atlantic states and the industrial Midwest, a consensus emerged that Steel City merited inclusion because it had more in common with Detroit and Cleveland than Philadelphia and New York. But not everyone agreed.
Erin Presson Ladd (@WordNerdErin) wrote us and said that her master’s thesis was based on this topic of Midwestern geography. In some broadly sketched parameters, she concluded the Midwest includes the area west of the Allegheny Mountains, north of the Mason Dixon Line, south of Canada and east of the Rocky Mountains.
But she added that, as an Illinois native, should could “NEVER” consider Pennsylvania as part of the Midwest.
Just when we were thinking we’d never come to a definitive conclusions – or perhaps reassuring ourselves because there are no right answers – along came a tweet from Nick Castele (@nickcastele), who traveled all the way to Hawaii to find the best definition we’ve heard yet.
“A Brit I met in Hawaii over the weekend asked,” he wrote, “If Ohio was ‘one of those flat, cold places.’”
Yep, sounds about right. Finally, a simple answer for our simple question.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our discussion about the Midwest states. We’re by no means done with the topic. If you have more thoughts, we’d love to hear them. You can comment on this post below or find us on Twitter @chgears.