Unless you like to read bloggers who have no regard for intellectual property rights, you’re reading this article on a website called Midwest Sports Fans. While not all who contribute to MSF currently live in the Midwestern United States, we all have ties to the Midwest and maintain allegiances to college and pro sports teams in the region. These Midwestern sympathies set MSF apart from sports websites whose writers identify with the coasts or the south.
But what does “Midwest” mean?
I had assumed that, for most Americans, “Midwest” meant the Great Lakes, the Rust Belt, the Big Ten, corn, and the American League Central. But after spending much of last week in Sacramento, I’m not so sure.
When I mentioned the “Midwest” to people in California, many assumed that I was talking about the Rocky Mountain region, and several found it odd that I considered Ohio and Indiana Midwestern.
Maybe we need to do a better job of defining “Midwest” so that people elsewhere in the country know what we’re talking about.
In a discussion on the MSF Contributors Facebook Page, co-editor AJ Kaufman offered this definition:
I define the Midwest . . . as beginning with Pittsburgh and moving west [through] Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, as far as perhaps Des Moines (central Iowa), and north as far as Minnesota, and of course Wisconsin and Michigan. It does not go much more southern than Louisville, at least culturally. (St. Louis, needless to add, is also Midwest, as is the rest of Missouri all the way to the Missouri River in KC, though southern Missouri, culturally, is more “southern” than Midwestern.)
Western Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas City and all of Kansas itself would be Great Plains, as would North Dakota and all of South Dakota, excluding the extreme western part.
AJ’s map of the Midwest looks something like this:
Unlike AJ, I don’t think of the Great Plains as being separate from the Midwest but as being one of two sub-regions within the Midwest, the other being the Great Lakes sub-region. My map looks like this:
The United States Census Bureau agrees with me, mostly. The Midwest is one of four regions recognized by the Census Bureau, and it includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The Census Bureau also divides the Midwest into two sub-regions, or Divisions: West North Central and East North Central. Its map looks like this:
The Census Bureau isn’t the only entity to offer a formal definition of the region. The World English Dictionary defines “Midwest” as such:
the N central part of the US; the region consisting of the states from Ohio westwards that border on the Great Lakes, often extended to include the upper Mississippi and Missouri valleys
That definition could fit any of the maps above.
The World English Dictionary also provides some information on the origin of the word “Midwest”:
from earlier Midwestern (1889) in ref. to a group of states originally listed as W.Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas.
Apparently, this was once the Midwest:
(I will use this map to justify the many future columns I will write about the Vanderbilt Commodores.)
Setting aside the bizarre 1889 definition, we can say with confidence that the Midwest includes most or all of the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Next question: Does the Midwest extend north of the border?
Western Ontario and southern Manitoba are geographically and culturally similar to their southern neighbors. Ontario shares maritime borders with Ohio and Michigan and a land border with Minnesota. Manitoba shares land borders with Minnesota and North Dakota. For sports purposes, can we claim Winnipeg, or even Toronto and Hamilton, as part of the Midwest? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Now it’s your turn:
Editor’s note: Like a jackwagon, I left Missouri out of the initial poll. We love the Show Me State; it was not intentional. They were added after 459 votes had been cast, so take that into consideration when viewing the results.
The term “Midwest” comes from a bygone era when the population of the United States was so concentrated on the eastern seaboard that anything on the far side of the Alleghenies was considered western. Back when the mean center of the country’s population was in Indiana and the westernmost Major League Baseball team played in St. Louis, it made perfect sense to refer to cities such as Chicago and Cleveland as Midwestern.
With the population of the United States moving west and south, it makes sense that young people would be confused by the term. After all, if you look at a map of the U.S., start in the west, and move toward the middle, you’re likely to end up in Wyoming or Colorado, not Ohio or Michigan.
But for those of us who grew up in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the Midwest will always be the Midwest. Even if the name is longitudinally inaccurate, we will always associate “Midwest” with the Packers, Cardinals, Bulls, and Red Wings; with the Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, Badgers, Hoosiers, and Wolverines; with Chicago-style Pizza and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald; with Motown, Devo, and the Smashing Pumpkins; with limestone quarries and iron mines. You get the point.
Note: I created all of the maps at this website, created many years ago at Texas A&M (which, despite being in the Big 12, is not in the Midwest).
Josh Tinley is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/joshtinley or send him an e-mail.