- Colin Woodard
- The United States has many regions, and author Colin Woodard argues that it can be divided into 11 sub-nations.
- Woodard’s defined nations range from the “Deep South” to the “Midlands” and “El Norte.”
- The cultural differences between them contribute to the political tensions between states and how they fit into the US overall, he said.
The United States comprises several different regions, each with its own rich history and cultural identity.
Exactly where those regions start and end has been a long-running debate, but according to author Colin Woodard, the United States can be divided into 11 distinct sub-nations.
Woodard mapped out the regions in his 2012 book “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.” Some of his regions might sound familiar, like the “Deep South”; others might surprise American readers, like his “Midlands” region that stretches from New Jersey to northeastern New Mexico.
Recognizing the distinct values of each region is critical to understanding the United States, Woodard said.
“The country has been arguing about a lot of fundamental things lately, including state roles and individual liberty,” Woodard, a Maine native, told Business Insider in 2015.
“In order to have any productive conversation on these issues, you need to know where you come from,” he said. “Once you know where you are coming from, it will help move the conversation forward.”
Here is how Woodard described each region of the US:
Yankeedom comprises New England, upstate New York, and much of the industrial midwest, from northern Pennsylvania to Minnesota, Woodard wrote in Tufts University’s magazine.
Residents in these states, founded by Puritans, are more comfortable with government regulation than people in other regions. They also value education, citizen participation in government, and the assimilation of outsiders, Woodard said.
Yankeedom is traditionally welcoming
“Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders,” Woodard wrote.
- Getty Images
New Netherland is Woodard’s name for the greater New York City area – encompassing the city itself as well as northern New Jersey and part of Connecticut.
The area was settled by the Dutch and retained many of the values that made the Netherlands a paragon of Western civilization.
New Netherland has become a diverse hub for commerce
- Flickr / Roman Kruglov
Today, the region is a hub for global commerce and, as Woodard put it, has “a profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience.”
The New Netherland region is “a magnet for immigrants, and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional cultures,” Woodard said.
- Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Midlands are “America’s great swing region,” Woodard wrote, citing the region’s ethnic diversity and politically moderate views.
According to Woodard, the region extends from Quaker territory in Pennsylvania and Delaware through populated Midwestern areas in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, down through the Plains states of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, and stretching out to include parts of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and New Mexico. It includes some of what we consider the American Heartland and Middle America.
The Midlands prioritize the middle class
- iStock / merrilyanne
Midlands society is “pluralistic and organized around the middle class,” Woodard wrote.
He said of the region: “An ethnic mosaic from the start – it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution – it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.”
The Tidewater region includes coastal areas of colonial states such as Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
The region began as a feudal society that embraced slavery, and to this day values respect for authority and tradition. Equality and public participation in politics are less of a priority.
Tidewater is in decline as the cities expand
- Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Woodard wrote that the Tidewater region is in decline in part because of the “expanding federal halos around DC and Norfolk.”
- Getty/Justin Sullivan
Greater Appalachia comprises the area from southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, through the lower Midwest, down through Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and into Oklahoma and Texas.
Woodard describes the Greater Appalachian culture as “characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty.”
Great Appalachia tends to be suspicious of outsiders
- Shutterstock/Joseph Sohm
According to Woodard, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances, siding with the Union during the Civil War, but currently aligning with Southern states in their opposition to federal overreach.
People from this region are generally “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike.”
- Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
The Deep South traces its roots to slave societies in the West Indies, where democracy was reserved for the privileged and many were resigned to a life of servitude, Woodard wrote.
On Woodard’s map, the Deep South spans from rural North Carolina, through South Carolina, Georgia, northern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, northern Louisiana, and eastern Texas.
The Deep South resists regulations
- Sean Rayford/Getty Images
The Deep South’s “caste systems” were eventually “smashed by outside intervention,” Woodard said. But to this day, people in the Deep South tend to fight against the expansion of federal powers, taxes on the wealthy, and corporate and environmental regulations, he wrote.
The New Orleans area, a progressive hub nestled in the Deep South, makes up what Woodard calls New France, as does the Canadian province of Quebec.
“After a long history of imperial oppression, its people have emerged as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, 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 wrote of New France.
People in this multicultural region tend to be comfortable with government involvement in the economy, he said.
New France is multicultural
“New France blends the folkways of ancien régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northeastern North America,” Woodard said.
- Wikimedia Commons
El Norte, comprising southwestern Texas and the Mexican border regions in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, is “a place apart” from the rest of North America, Woodard wrote.
Thanks to its roots in the Spanish Empire, Hispanic culture dominates in El Norte, and people here “have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work.”
El Norte tends to foster revolutionary sentiments
- Shutterstock/Roberto Galan
Woodward called El Norte “a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary settlement.”
And it extends beyond the boundaries of the United States. “The region encompasses parts of Mexico that have tried to secede in order to form independent buffer states between their mother country and the United States,” he wrote.
The Far West
- Shutterstock/Johnny Adolphson
Comprising the Great Plains and the Mountain West, Woodard’s Far West region “occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones.”
The Far West includes land in the western Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and the eastern halves of Washington, Oregon, and California. It also includes Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Far West resists federal oversight
- John Moore/Getty Images
Settlement in the Far West was directed by big-city corporations with railroads and mining equipment, leaving people here “resentful of their dependent status,” Woodard said. Today, Far Westerners direct their ire at the federal government.
The Left Coast
- Shutterstock/Josemaria Toscano
The Left Coast is the sliver of land that runs up the Pacific coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, and also includes Juneau, Alaska, and coastal British Columbia.
The region was settled by both New Englanders and Appalachian midwesterners, resulting in a unique blend of cultures, Woodard said.
“Yankee missionaries tried to make it a ‘New England on the Pacific,’ but were only partially successful,” he wrote.
The Left Coast tends to clash with other regions in the same states
Woodard wrote: “Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration – traits recognizable in its cultural production, from the Summer of Love to the iPad.
“The staunchest ally of Yankeedom, it clashes with Far Western sections in the interior of its home states.”
- Travel Alaska
The largest but least populated of Woodard’s nations is First Nation – the region comprising native groups that never gave up their land to white settlers. They mostly reside in harsh Arctic areas in Alaska and northern Canada.
First Nation has stuck to its roots
- Chasing Ice
People from these groups “have largely retained cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in this hostile region on their own terms,” Woodard said.
“Its territory is huge – far larger than the continental United States,” he wrote. “But its population is less than 300,000, most of whom live in Canada.”
This is an updated version of an article by Matthew Speiser.