The United States' South is well known enough that even echoing rock songs about a “Southern man,” are familiar around the world.
New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Rockies, Appalachia, the Great Lakes are all regions fairly well defined, partly perhaps because there are firm borders involved, usually involving big water.
But maybe the scope of where we live here in the heart of “flyover country” isn’t seen as clearly by those outside it, and maybe inside it.
That’s where the newly prize-winning book, “Interior Borderlands: Regional Identity in the Midwest and Great Plains,” edited by South Dakotan Jon Lauck, might draw some sharper lines across the maps in our minds.
On June 27, the book was named winner in the general history category at the 30th annual Midwest Book Awards during a pandemic-caused virtual “online watch party,” according to a news release from Augustana University’s Center for Western Studies in Sioux Falls, which published the book in 2019.
Lauck, a senior aide to U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and a prolific writer of history about the Midwest and the Great Plains and where they each begin and end, is founding president of the Midwestern History Association.
He gathered 20 essays from scholars, college professors and writers far — a professor in France, a Nice touch; and nearer — across South Dakota and several states. And quite near: Lance Nixon of Pierre, former editor of the Capital Journal.
Nixon wrote a chapter in the book on the late 19th-early 20th century writer Hamlin Garland, who lived in Wisconsin and Iowa and titled his 1917 autobiography, “A Son of the Middle Border.”
Nixon said Lauck did a good job of shepherding the work of the contributors he recruited to make the book clearly lay out Lauck’s own vision.
“It must be especially gratifying to Jon to win this award because he has been at the forefront of trying to put new emphasis on the study of the Midwest,” Nixon told the Capital Journal via email. “That was the driving focus of Jon Lauck’s 2013 book, “The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History.” This new, award-winning book is simply Jon Lauck practicing what he’s already preached.”
Lauck grew up in Madison, South Dakota, got his Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa and his law degree from the University of Minnesota. His books include,besides “The Lost Region,” the three-volume “The Plains Political Tradition,” which he edited with John Miller and Paula Nelson and “Prairie Republic,” a political history of how South Dakota became a state.
In his new book, Lauck’s introduction to the 20 essays is titled “Crossing the Line: In Search of the Midwest/Great Plains Borderlands.”
Lauck told the Capital Journal this week: “Pierre, South Dakota is right on the fault line between the Midwest and the Great Plains. You can see and feel the transition as you cross the Missouri River. Everyone in Pierre (and Fort Pierre, he meant to add) will enjoy reading this book about how East River and West River are different and how they separate at about the 100th meridian near the center of South Dakota.”
The variety around Lauck’s central vision can be caught by looking at the essays’ titles and authors:
1.“Geographies of the Borderlands” – Chris Laingen, Eastern Illinois University.
2. “Aerial Transect of the Central Great Plains/Midwest Borderlands” – James S. and Susan W. Aber, Emporia State University.
3. “Of Space, Time, Size, Hexagons, Movement, and Memory: A Comparison of County Development in Illinois and South Dakota” – James Davis, Illinois College.
4. “The ‘There’ in ‘There Is No There There’” – Gleaves Whitney, Hauenstein Center, Grand Valley State University.
5. “‘Nebraska is, at least, not a desert’: Land Sales, False Promises, and Real Estate Borderlands on the Great Plains” – Matthew Luckett, University of California-Los Angeles.
6. “‘The Western Coteaux!’: Hamlin Garland’s Experience of the Midwest/Great Plains Borderlands” – Lance Nixon, former editor of Pierre Capital Journal.
7. “Claiming the Frontier’s River: Regional Divides and the Failure of the Missouri Valley Authority, 1934-1954” – Maria Howe, Iowa State University.
8. “Defined By Absence: Where the West Begins” – Will Weaver, Bemidji, Minnesota.
9. “Exploring the Midwest/Plains Borderlands in Modern Women’s Memoir” – Rachael Hanel, Mankato State University.
10. “Home on the Range: How Community Cookbooks Define the Middle Border” – Debbie Hanson, Augustana University.
11. “The Great Plains Vision: Horizontal Grandeur” – David Pichaske, Southwest Minnesota State University.
12. “Finding the Sub-regional Diversity in the American West: Historians and Their Search for the American Interior Borderlands” – Nathalie Massip, University of Nice, France.
13. “Cinematic Representations of ‘Flyover Country’ in Modern America” – Anna Thompson Hajdik, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
14. “West of the 100th Meridian: Where the Midwest Ends and the Great Plains Begin” – Brad Tennant, Presentation College, Aberdeen, South Dakota.
15. “Hiawatha and Leatherstocking, from Native Borderlands to Regional Border” – Joe Schiller, University of Oklahoma.
16. “Exploring Midwestern v. Great Plains Regional Variation by Way of the Jewish Immigrant Experience” – Mara W. Cohen Ioannides, Missouri State University.
17. “Where the Midwest Meets the Bible Belt: Using Religion to Explore the Midwest’s Southwestern Edge” – Jay Price, Wichita State University.
18. “Beyond Aridity: Historical Environment and Shifting Regional Boundaries” – Julie Courtwright, Iowa State University.
19. “Geography Is Not Destiny: Human Agency in the Midwest/Great Plains Transition Zone” – Paula Nelson, University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
20. “Where the Midwest Ends and the Great Plains Begin: A Survey” – Michael J. Mullin, Augustana University, with Matt Fox.
The Midwest Book Awards are organized by the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, a nonprofit. For more information, go online at mipa.org/midwest-book-awards.