Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s

Princeton University Press
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For many Americans, the Midwest is a vast unknown. In Remaking the Heartland, Robert Wuthnow sets out to rectify this. He shows how the region has undergone extraordinary social transformations over the past half-century and proven itself surprisingly resilient in the face of such hardships as the Great Depression and the movement of residents to other parts of the country. He examines the heartland's reinvention throughout the decades and traces the social and economic factors that have helped it to survive and prosper.

Wuthnow points to the critical strength of the region's social institutions established between 1870 and 1950--the market towns, farmsteads, one-room schoolhouses, townships, rural cooperatives, and manufacturing centers that have adapted with the changing times. He focuses on farmers' struggles to recover from the Great Depression well into the 1950s, the cultural redefinition and modernization of the region's image that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, the growth of secondary and higher education, the decline of small towns, the redeployment of agribusiness, and the rapid expansion of edge cities. Drawing his arguments from extensive interviews and evidence from the towns and counties of the Midwest, Wuthnow provides a unique perspective as both an objective observer and someone who grew up there.

Remaking the Heartland offers an accessible look at the humble yet strong foundations that have allowed the region to endure undiminished.

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About the author

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University. His many books include Red State Religion and America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity (both Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 28, 2010
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Pages
376
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ISBN
9781400836246
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Social History
History / United States / 20th Century
History / United States / State & Local / Midwest (IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, WI)
Social Science / Sociology / General
Social Science / Sociology / Rural
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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J. D. Vance
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Robert Wuthnow
No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest--and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, "Kansas leads the world!" How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

In Red State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.

Robert Wuthnow
The evolution of American spirituality over the past fifty years is the subject of Robert Wuthnow's engrossing new book. Wuthnow uses in-depth interviews and a broad range of resource materials to show how Americans, from teenagers to senior citizens, define their spiritual journeys. His findings are a telling reflection of the changes in beliefs and lifestyles that have occurred throughout the United States in recent decades.

Wuthnow reconstructs the social and cultural reasons for an emphasis on a spirituality of dwelling (houses of worship, denominations, neighborhoods) during the 1950s. Then in the 1960s a spirituality of seeking began to emerge, leading individuals to go beyond established religious institutions. In subsequent chapters Wuthnow examines attempts to reassert spiritual discipline, encounters with the sacred (such as angels and near-death experiences), and the development of the "inner self." His final chapter discusses a spirituality of practice, an alternative for people who are uncomfortable within a single religious community and who want more than a spirituality of endless seeking.

The diversity of contemporary American spirituality comes through in the voices of the interviewees. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Native Americans are included, as are followers of occult practices, New Age religions, and other eclectic groups. Wuthnow also notes how politicized spirituality, evangelical movements, and resources such as Twelve-Step programs and mental health therapy influence definitions of religious life today.

Wuthnow's landmark book, The Restructuring of American Religion (1988), documented the changes in institutional religion in the United States; now After Heaven explains the changes in personal spirituality that have come to shape our religious life. Moreover, it is a compelling and insightful guide to understanding American culture at century's end.
Robert Wuthnow
How American respectability has been built by maligning those who don't make the grade

How did Americans come to think of themselves as respectable members of the middle class? Was it just by earning a decent living? Or did it require something more? And if it did, what can we learn that may still apply?

The quest for middle-class respectability in nineteenth-century America is usually described as a process of inculcating positive values such as honesty, hard work, independence, and cultural refinement. But clergy, educators, and community leaders also defined respectability negatively, by maligning individuals and groups—“misfits”—who deviated from accepted norms.

Robert Wuthnow argues that respectability is constructed by “othering” people who do not fit into easily recognizable, socially approved categories. He demonstrates this through an in-depth examination of a wide variety of individuals and groups that became objects of derision. We meet a disabled Civil War veteran who worked as a huckster on the edges of the frontier, the wife of a lunatic who raised her family while her husband was institutionalized, an immigrant religious community accused of sedition, and a wealthy scion charged with profiteering.

Unlike respected Americans who marched confidently toward worldly and heavenly success, such misfits were usually ignored in paeans about the nation. But they played an important part in the cultural work that made America, and their story is essential for understanding the “othering” that remains so much a part of American culture and politics today.

Robert Wuthnow
Tracing the intersection of religion, race, and power in Texas from Reconstruction through the rise of the Religious Right and the failed presidential bid of Governor Rick Perry, Rough Country illuminates American history since the Civil War in new ways, demonstrating that Texas's story is also America’s. In particular, Robert Wuthnow shows how distinctions between "us" and “them” are perpetuated and why they are so often shaped by religion and politics.

Early settlers called Texas a rough country. Surviving there necessitated defining evil, fighting it, and building institutions in the hope of advancing civilization. Religion played a decisive role. Today, more evangelical Protestants live in Texas than in any other state. They have influenced every presidential election for fifty years, mobilized powerful efforts against abortion and same-sex marriage, and been a driving force in the Tea Party movement. And religion has always been complicated by race and ethnicity.

Drawing from memoirs, newspapers, oral history, voting records, and surveys, Rough Country tells the stories of ordinary men and women who struggled with the conditions they faced, conformed to the customs they knew, and on occasion emerged as powerful national leaders. We see the lasting imprint of slavery, public executions, Jim Crow segregation, and resentment against the federal government. We also observe courageous efforts to care for the sick, combat lynching, provide for the poor, welcome new immigrants, and uphold liberty of conscience.

A monumental and magisterial history, Rough Country is as much about the rest of America as it is about Texas.

Robert Wuthnow
How a fraying social fabric is fueling the outrage of rural Americans

What is fueling rural America's outrage toward the federal government? Why did rural Americans vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? And, beyond economic and demographic decline, is there a more nuanced explanation for the growing rural-urban divide? Drawing on more than a decade of research and hundreds of interviews, Robert Wuthnow brings us into America's small towns, farms, and rural communities to paint a rich portrait of the moral order--the interactions, loyalties, obligations, and identities—underpinning this critical segment of the nation. Wuthnow demonstrates that to truly understand rural Americans' anger, their culture must be explored more fully.

We hear from farmers who want government out of their business, factory workers who believe in working hard to support their families, town managers who find the federal government unresponsive to their communities' needs, and clergy who say the moral climate is being undermined. Wuthnow argues that rural America's fury stems less from specific economic concerns than from the perception that Washington is distant from and yet threatening to the social fabric of small towns. Rural dwellers are especially troubled by Washington's seeming lack of empathy for such small-town norms as personal responsibility, frugality, cooperation, and common sense. Wuthnow also shows that while these communities may not be as discriminatory as critics claim, racism and misogyny remain embedded in rural patterns of life.

Moving beyond simplistic depictions of the residents of America's heartland, The Left Behind offers a clearer picture of how this important population will influence the nation's political future.

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