This map shows the US really has 11 separate 'nations' with entirely different cultures

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.

Recognising 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

ShutterstockA village in rural Vermont.

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

ShutterstockIrish-Americans play bagpipes during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilisation through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders,” Woodard wrote.


New Netherland

Getty ImagesThe Statue of Liberty and the skyline of New York City.

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 civilisation.


New Netherland has become a diverse hub for commerce

Flickr / Roman KruglovPeople crossing the street in Manhattan, New York.

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.


The Midlands

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesA farmer harvesting corn in Burlington, Iowa.

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 prioritise the middle class

iStock / merrilyanneA horse-drawn carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Midlands society is “pluralistic and organised 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 organised to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.”


Tidewater

ShutterstockDowntown Annapolis, Maryland.

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/ShutterstockThe Washington Monument in Washington, DC.

Woodard wrote that the Tidewater region is in decline in part because of the “expanding federal halos around DC and Norfolk.”


Greater Appalachia

Getty/Justin SullivanA coal miner in Beallsville, Ohio.

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 “characterised by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty.”


Great Appalachia tends to be suspicious of outsiders

Shutterstock/Joseph SohmLincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois.

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.”


Deep South

Shutterstock/Sean PavoneDowntown Macon, Georgia.

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 ImagesTwo men raise a Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

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.


New France

ShutterstockA local jazz band performs in front of Jackson Square in the New Orleans French Quarter.

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

The Library of Congress/FlickrA Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“New France blends the folkways of ancien rĂ©gime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northeastern North America,” Woodard said.


El Norte

Wikimedia CommonsHouses in Mesa, Arizona.

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 GalanA cowboy rides a horse during a parade in Brownsville, Texas.

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 AdolphsonThe Wasatch Mountains in Utah.

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 ImagesA ranch hand drives cattle at the Yarmony Lodge near McCoy, Colorado.

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 ToscanoDowntown Portland, Oregon.

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

cdrin/shutterstockPeople exercising in Oakland, California.

Woodard wrote: “Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration – traits recognisable 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.”


First Nation

Travel AlaskaAn Inuit woman in 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 IceAn Inuit man ice-fishing in Alaska.

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.

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