‘hast thou set the borders of the Midwest?’ said the Lord unto Job

Yes, Lord, said Job, I have.

I rarely mention it, because I know that it is incorrect, but I absolutely refuse to believe that Ohio is the “Midwest.”

This came up at dinner last night, when I was a few beers freer with my opinions, and surrounded by a majority of people who hail from West of the Mississippi.

I don’t think anyone I grew up with in Minnesota considered Ohio part of our same geographic region, although perhaps I’m mistaken. I wasn’t conducting a Neilson poll on the topic, certainly. I’m mostly basing this opinion off my own childhood impressions, the most unshakeable of foundations.

And my childhood impression was that Ohio was “in the East.” If you tell this to a New Yorker or a New Englander, their response is: “Anything beyond Westchester County is the midwest.” Press them on this flippant remark and you begin to realize that yes, in fact, they do think Jersey is also the midwest. It’s not Connecticut, you can be sure of that. Has a Kennedy ever lived there? No? Must be the Midwest.

(A quick google search reveals that Congressman Patrick Kennedy did retire to the South Jersey shore. The article itself reveals what a keenly felt win this is for Jersey and how clearly Kennedys are not of-Jersey-soil, as it geo-tags both Rhode Island and Massachusetts within the first paragraph about the Congressman.)

Pressed upon my own belief, that the Midwest is a narrow strip of land known as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa, I could come up with very few criteria for my designation of the Midwest.

“Is it North Dakota?” Um, no, have you been there? That’s not like Minnesota at all. “Nebraska for sure is,” said a St. Louis native. I was not at all sure. Prairie states like Kansas and Nebraska are ecologically and topographically distinct from Iowa, and anyone who has driven south on I-35 can bear witness to that. “Colorado is partly in the midwest,” said another Google Map consulter.

Absolutely not, I responded.

While I mostly held my ground last night by stubborn insistence that my four-year-old perceptions of geography were infallible, I have done more rational thinking by the clear light of morning.

If you are wondering: Is this in the Midwest? Do not refer to the US Census Bureau, which, indeed, has its own answers. Instead, please refer to the above map and the following criteria:

– Is the location in Eastern Time? If it’s in Eastern Time, it’s not the Midwest. Sorry to all my friends and family in the Industrial Mideast. You are not the Midwest, because “Eastern” is quite literally in the name of your time zone.

What about Michigan, Renée? Yes, I hear you. Michigan is also in Eastern Time, and Detroit is nothing if not the capital of crepuscular American industry. Michigan is part of the Midwest due to the Upper Great Lakes Exception. Also Michigan is home to some of the nation’s best breweries, so it is in the Midwest’s interest to include it by any means possible.

– But Ohio and Pennsylvania are Great Lake States? Yes, but the lower two Great Lakes of Ontario and Eerie are supremely different than the Upper Great Lakes of Michigan, Huron, and Superior (especially Superior). I know they are part of the same ecosystem, shipping routes, glacier lakes, etc., etc. but Lake Eerie does not have the same Great Lake Midwestern feel that Michigan and Superior have.* Also, by this measure, if every Great Lake designated the Midwest, then Rochester, New York would be the Midwest. (Which, as we’ve seen, the Manhattanite may think is true, but this is clearly ridiculous.)

*If you push me too much on the status of Cleveland, I may cave and include it as a Midwestern colony (see also the beer exception for Michigan, above), so don’t press the issue.

Is it North of the 39th Parallel (geographic location of the Mason/Dixon line)? If it is south of the 39th parallel, it is not the Midwest, it is the South. I have included Kansas City and St. Louis as the Southern-most borders of the Midwest.

Is it West of Lebanon, KS, the geographic center of the United States? If so, then it is no longer the “Midwest,” it is the West, proper.

– Is it in Canada? It is not the Midwest.

1 comment

  1. This is marvelous, Renee. Speaking as someone who has lived throughout the United States, including New York and California, and having a daughter living outside of Detroit, I have to agree with your general geographic opinions. Wonderful post!


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