Reading for War

Book Review | American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America

By Chris Field September 18, 2019


Introduction

The United States of America (USA) is important to Australia. At any point in time, many components of Australian business, industry, community and three-tiers of government interact with people from the USA. Examples of these interactions include:

  • Australia-United States Alliance, known as the 'ANZUS' Treaty, signed in 1951 and invoked for the first time on 14 September 2001 in response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the USA.
  • Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, known as AUSFTA, commenced on 1 January 2005 and now 96.1 per cent of all Australian exports to the US are tariff-free.
  • Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, known as AUSMIN, held between Australian and United States foreign and defence ministers / secretaries on a regular basis.
  • United States is Australia’s largest two-way investment partner, with two-way investment stock reaching $1.6 trillion in 2017.
  • United States is by far the largest investor in Australia, with investment stock worth $896 billion at the end of 2018.
  • Australia and the United States worked closely in establishing the G20 in 1999, and work together in global and regional trade and economic fora, including the World Trade Organisation and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
  • United States visitors are the third largest source of international visitors to Australia. US visitors spent $3.7 billion in Australia during 2017-18.[i]

These strong diplomatic, informational, military and economic connections between Australia and the USA mean that we, as Australians, would be wise to know and understand our ally and partner. Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America, provides some unique knowledge and understanding of the people, cultures and regions comprising North America in general and the United States of America in particular.

American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America

Woodard notes that:

…these eleven nations have been hiding in plain sight throughout [America’s] history. You see them outlined on linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologists’ maps of material culture regions, cultural geographers’ maps of religious regions, campaign strategists’ maps of political geography and historians’ maps of the pattern of settlement across the continent.

Acknowledging cultural interconnectivity between the North American continent’s ‘three federations’, Canada (thirteen provinces), Mexico (thirty-one states) and the United States (fifty states), Woodard’s thesis is that each of the United States’:

…founding cultures has its own set of cherished principles, and they often contradicted one another…the United States is a federation comprised of the whole or part of eleven regional nations, some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another…these nations respect neither state nor international boundaries.

Woodard consciously employs the term nation to describe the eleven rival regional cultures of North America. A state is a sovereign political entity like the France, Kenya, Panama or Australia. In contrast, a nation is ‘a group of people who share – or believe they share – a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artefact and symbols’. For example, in Australia, prior to European settlement and the formation of the Australian state, there were over 500 ‘language, tribal or nation groups of Indigenous peoples’ habituating the continent, many with distinctive cultures and beliefs.[ii]

Described by Woodard, the eleven nations of North America are:

  1. First Nation: encompasses a vast region with a hostile climate in boreal forests, tundra and glaciers of the far north. The inhabitants have never given up their land by treaty, and they still retain cultural practices and knowledge that allow them, on their own terms, to survive in the region. Includes much of Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Labrador; the entirety of Nunavut and Greenland; the northern tier of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; much of north-western British Colombia and the northern two thirds of Quebec.
  2. Yankeedom: founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by Calvinists, a religious utopia in the New England wildness, with a middle-class ethos and respect for intellectual achievement. Includes upper New York State, northern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, parts of eastern Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Canadian Maritimes.
  3. New Netherland: a seventeenth-century Dutch colony, now the five boroughs of New York City, the lower Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey, western Long Island, and southwestern Connecticut, emerged as a global commercial trading society: multi-ethnic; multi-religious; speculative; materialistic; mercantile and free-trading.
  4. Midlands: founded by English Quakers, welcoming people of many nations and creeds, an ethnic mosaic spawning the culture of ‘Middle America’ and the ‘Heartland’. Includes south-eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, northern Delaware and Maryland, central Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, northern Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and southern Ontario.
  5. Tidewater: the most powerful nation during the colonial period and Early Republic, has always been a fundamentally conservative region, with high value placed on respect for authority and tradition.  Includes the lowlands of Virginia, Maryland, southern Delaware and north-eastern North Carolina.
  6. Greater Appalachia: founded in the early eighteenth century by bellicose settlers from war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England and the Scottish Lowlands. The Borderlander’s combative culture provides a large proportion of people for military service, famously including Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett and Douglas MacArthur. Developed bluegrass, country music, stock car racing and Evangelical fundamentalism. Includes southern tiers of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, as well as Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and the Hill Country of Texas.
  7. Deep South: founded by Barbados slave owners in Charleston, South Carolina, it remains the most conservative of the eleven nations.  It was the centre of the states’ rights movement, labour and environmental deregulation, and racial segregation. Includes South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, western Tennessee and the south-eastern parts of North Carolina, Arkansas and Texas.
  8. New France: the most overtly nationalistic of the nations, possessing a nation state-in-waiting in the form of the province of Quebec. Down-to-earth, egalitarian and consensus driven they have blended French culture with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in north-western North America. Includes the lower third of Quebec, northern and north-eastern New Brunswick, and the Acadian or Cajun enclave of southern Louisiana.
  9. El Norte: the oldest of the Euro-American nations, dating back to the late sixteenth century when the Spanish empire established northern outposts. Independent, self-sufficient, adaptable and work-centred, El Norte are considered ‘Americanised’ by other Mexican states. Includes south and west Texas, southern California, southern Arizona, most of New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, as well as Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California.
  10. Left Coast: originally colonised by two groups: merchants, missionaries and woodsmen from New England (who arrived by sea and controlled the towns) and farmers, prospectors and fur traders from Greater Appalachia (who arrived by wagon and dominated the countryside). Combines Yankee faith in good government and social reform with a commitment to maximising individual potential. It is home to Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter and Silicon Valley. Includes a strip from Monterey, California to Juneau, Alaska, encompassing four decidedly progressive metropolises: San Francisco; Portland; Seattle, and Vancouver.
  11. Far West: the only nation where environmental factors dominate ethnic and cultural considerations. High, dry and remote, the interior west destroyed conventional farming endeavours. This vast region could only be colonised with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroad; heavy mining equipment; ore smelters; dams; and, irrigation systems. As a result, the colonisation of the Far West was facilitated by large corporations headquartered in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco or by the Federal Government. Includes northern Arizona, the interiors of California, Washington, Oregon, much of British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alaska, portions of Yukon and the Northwest Territories; the arid western halves of the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas and all, or nearly all, of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
Conclusion

Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America, is an important contribution to understanding the people of the United States of America. Woodard’s analysis is clear-eyed on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks inherent in the eleven nations. This is an ideal book to prepare Australians before they interact with the people, cultures and regions comprising the United States of America.

 

[i] Commonwealth of Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, United States of America, Canberra <https://dfat.gov.au/geo/united-states-of-america/Pages/united-states-of-america-country-brief.aspx> [Accessed 12 September 2019]

[ii] Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS] map of Indigenous Australia <https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia> [Accessed 12 September 2019] and Commonwealth of Australia, Australia.gov.au <https://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people> [Accessed 13 September 2019]


Portrait

Biography

Chris Field

Chris Field serves in the Australian Army and is the Commander Forces Command. He previously served as Vice Director of Operations, United States Central Command.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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