Title Reviewed:
America's Northern Heartland

Author Reviewed:
John R. Borchert

Herbert T. Hoover


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 181-182

Article Type:
Book Review

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America's Northern Heartland. By John R. Borchert. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Pp. viii, 250. Illustrations, maps, figures, graphs, tables, notes, index. Clothbound, $39.50; paperbound, $19.50.)

"My hope is to capture the reality, the spirit, and the dynamics of the region," writes University of Minnesota Regents Professor John R. Borchert about his study of the history of development on "One-tenth of America's Land" (p. viii). The region extends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Rocky Mountains, between the Canadian border and a line drawn roughly from Rapid City, South Dakota, through Storm Lake and Oelwein, Iowa, to Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Economic geography is featured in the numerous maps scattered through the text. The book contains many photographs, most of which present historical or contemporary scenes in Minnesota. The major themes of America's Northern Heartland are "dissolving the wilderness" (p. 31) through a period of burgeoning population from 1870 to 1920 and cultural maturation through urbanization, industrialization, and economic diversity since 1920. Borchert fashions the products of some thirty-five years of research into a demonstration of how the heartland of the United States has taken shape, with Minnesota as its lynchpin, over the past one hundred twenty years.

As a study of economic geography, Borchert's book is fairly successful. Most important trends are portrayed well enough. Some, however, are missing. Tourism, for example, is not featured as it might be in the histories of the states west of Minnesota. From appearances, the range of material included is restricted by the selection of sources. Borchert has relied mainly on books, articles, published documents, and fieldwork, and from appearances has worked very little in manuscript collections. Otherwise, his book seems wholly adequate and complete.

The heartland Borchert describes is not as great or diverse as that featured in a volume edited by James H. Madison, entitled Heartland (Bloomington, 1988), about the larger Middle West. Borchert's breadth of analysis is not as great as that of the authors of the twelve essays contained in Madison's volume. A reviewer might easily take issue with the perception of the geographical boundaries and with the range of subject matter contained in the text by Borchert. But this interesting study must be recommended as a substantial contribution to literature about the history and nature of Middle America. With eighty-two figures and nine tables, it doubles as a reference work on economic geography and as a historical survey of cultural growth. General readers, scholars, educators, and librarians all are advised to regard it as an important work.

HERBERT T. HOOVER is professor of history at the University of South Dakota, Vermilion. He is the author of The Yankton Sioux (1988), South Dakota Leaders (1988), and of the essay on South Dakota in Heartland (1988).

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.