How united are the United States of America? Many Americans believe that they live in a diverse yet culturally unified nation that shares a common language, history, and values. But dig a little deeper, and ask someone about the America* they live in versus other Americans, and you may get some interesting responses. While most are familiar with “red states” and “blue states”, the cultural differences between North, South, East, West, and Middle America are vaster than we realize. Above, The Americas are a medley of different cultural regions, influenced by their unique histories.
This interesting piece on the Washington Post blog delves into the cultural observations of journalist and author, Colin Woodard. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities,” he wrote in a Fall 2013 issue of the Tufts University alumni magazine. Check out his map above to see just how many different “like-minded” regional cultures exist in the US and other northern regions of the New World.
Here’s how Woodard explains cultural regions within North America, particularly in the US:
Yankeedom: Founded by Puritans, residents in Northeastern states and the industrial Midwest tend to be more comfortable with government regulation. They value education and the common good more than other regions.
New Netherland: The Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world when New York was founded, Woodard writes, so it’s no wonder that the region has been a hub of global commerce. It’s also the region most accepting of historically persecuted populations.
The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.
Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.
El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.
The Left Coast: A hybrid, Woodard says, of Appalachian independence and Yankee utopianism loosely defined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and coastal mountain ranges like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas on the other. The independence and innovation required of early explorers continues to manifest in places like Silicon Valley and the tech companies around Seattle.
The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.
New France: Former French colonies in and around New Orleans and Quebec tend toward consensus and egalitarian, “among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy,” Woodard writes.
First Nation: The few First Nation peoples left — Native Americans who never gave up their land to white settlers — are mainly in the harshly Arctic north of Canada and Alaska. They have sovereignty over their lands, but their population is only around 300,000.
Beyond the social and political clashes between US cultures, these differences can cause strife within regions. States in the Deep South, Tidewater, The Far West, and Greater Appalachia have notably higher rates of violent crimes than those in Yankeedom and New Netherland. States with increased violence tend to have cultures that value independence and self-determination while less violent states are more likely to allow government intervention.
How do your experiences working with North Americans (particularly US Americans) relate to Colin Woodard’s perspective? What sort of cultural differences do you notice between different regions?
*The demonym for people from the US is American but many Americans are technically incorrect when referring to the United States as simply “America”. The Americas, however, usually refers to all of North and South America.