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The real story of the Middle West

This one is in the 1st percentile — i. RW: This was the reason why I tried throughout the book to bring in the voices of women: the politics for so much of the period were dominated, of course, by men. Not entirely, but pretty much. And yet the women were the ones who were often dealing with the most difficult circumstances.

There was the prospect of dying in childbirth, of giving birth to children who died, of dealing with being out in an isolated part of the country with their husbands away. The story I came across that grips me the most whenever I think or read about it again is the story of Susie Crawford in [pp.

She is a very devout woman who attends a rural Methodist church her grandfather was one of the Methodist preachers who came in as a revivalist of sorts and who raises a very devout Methodist family. She gets up in the morning, starts to cook breakfast for her family, and the gas stove explodes. She dies that evening, in her late 30s and with 3 small children. The entire community, of course, turns out for her funeral.

Remaking the Heartland

My grandparents probably attended that funeral. What is it about the church in Kansas, as an institution in particular, that shaped religion, politics, and civic life? RW: In Kansas, the church is the place people go to be good, to know how to do good, to be seen as being good.

Let me offer another anecdote. The farm woman is standing on her porch looking out at this storm that comes up and starts a terrible hail storm. She knows at that moment that the wheat crop is gone. They have nothing left. So you can see the kind of moral climate in the community. What is it about the physical spaces that made them important fixtures in the makeup of Kansas?

RW: It was the physical structures that created sanctified space that told people that this is important. So I spent a lot of time in the book talking about some of the early churches and how they got started. People saw the possibility of having churches in their communities as adornments that would attract newcomers.

Remaking the Heartland by Robert Wuthnow - Read Online

A church was the kind of thing any good community should have. Over time, the Methodists and the Catholics, the two main groups in early Kansas, were very good at adapting to the demographic changes. Protestant churches in towns were often small but shifted from wood to brick structures and installed electricity as soon as they could. Catholic churches out in the plains were much larger, but to this day you can still see some of these gigantic churches from miles and miles away.

And today, of course, there are now places like Church of the Magdalen, an impressive church in Wichita. Most of the population in Kansas today either lives in Wichita or suburban Kansas City, so megachurches have grown to adapt to these populations as well.

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  8. RW: Sometimes people heard political speeches, like with Lincoln, in their churches. In other cases they heard people talk against the Ku Klux Klan, which is what William Allen White meant in the s when he wrote about churches. In a few cases, they heard from Klansmen who would come marching in to church and basically make a show of themselves whether by intimidation or people-approved , but the Klansmen tried to connect the churches. People have dealt with that question about what it means to be a good citizen and a good person of faith from the very beginning.

    Sociologist Robert Wuthnow used to subscribe to the view of the American Middle West referred to as Middle America in the book's title as a region in long-term decline, and he decided to write a book explaining the decline as evidenced by ghost towns, reports of joblessness, and other signs of decreasing vitality. But after doing a great deal of research, he realized that the true story of the Middle West, or heartland, from the s to the present was considerably different from the conventional story that he had accepted.

    With an overall approach that "treads the line between history and social science," Wuthnow argues that, rather than declining, the Middle West has been remade in a way consistent both with its traditional values and with modern changes in society and technology. Pain tends to accompany any large transformation, and the transformation of the heartland is no exception to that tendency: the region certainly has experienced its share of economic pain.

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    And it is sometimes stereotyped as culturally backward. But Wuthnow asserts that, on the whole, the region is both economically and culturally vibrant. To research this region, Wuthnow chose to use multiple methods.

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