Robert Wuthnow

 

On his book Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s

Cover Interview of April 27, 2011

In a nutshell

Remaking the Heartland examines the profound social transformation that has taken place in the middle of the United States during the past half century.  This is a region known for its small towns and farms.  For years, it was described as a good place to be from.  Writers frequently characterized it as the home of rustics who lagged behind the times and raised ignorant offspring who did the same.

But over the past half century the heartland has remade itself.

A dramatic reduction in the farm population has led to an equally dramatic increase in agricultural productivity through the application of new technology.  Small towns have remained small and many are even smaller than they were a few decades ago.  But few have actually died and all but the smallest have proven amazingly resilient.  Public education has remained strong.  Communities are adapting to immigration and new ethnic diversity.

Readers who have never lived in the heartland may be surprised by what has been happening there.

The region’s population has never been as settled as images of quaint farms and villages may have suggested.  And contrary to ideas about “country bumpkins,” the region has been remarkably effective at providing high-quality low-cost public education for its citizens—from elementary school through college.

To understand these realities, it is necessary to situate the heartland in a larger historical context.