In search of our identity

Up to now, the oh-so-Minnesota effort to break away from the Midwest and come up with a new name to describe where and who we are — be careful what you wish for, Minnesota — has been a local conversation.

It started with a panel at the Walker Art Center last November that asked, “Should Minnesota divorce itself from this nebulous affiliation? Is there a better appellation for our state and region? What role does geography play in forming our identity? What does it even mean to brand a state?”

This is the kind of thing you talk about to keep from going mad in the depths of winter. It kills time until the ground thaws.

Then people started taking it seriously.

What do we call us? “The thermally-challenged hell hole north of Iowa” won’t fit on a license plate.

In the St. Cloud Times last week, historian Tim Hoheisel found compass-based suggestions wanting.

Minnesota is a unique state. The southwest part of the state is prairie and agricultural. The north is mining territory. The southeast has the best hospital in the world. The metro is one of the most culturally diverse areas in the nation. Minnesota also borders Canada and shares a long fur trade history with that country. The Red River Valley in the northwest had a unique bonanza farm history. The northeast is on Lake Superior.

The Midwest is equally difficult to define. If we call Minnesota “North,” it will be as one of several sub-regions of the Midwest, which also contains the Corn Belt, Rust Belt, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes. People are defensive of their particular region.

Geographer Donald Meinig has asserted in several articles and books that America is a nation of peripheries without a distinct center. Minneota writer Bill Holm made similar comments about our state in a 1995 article entitled, “Is Minnesota in America Yet?” Poet N. Scott Momaday remarked that the region of the American West “is a place that has to be seen to be believed, and it may have to be believed in order to be seen.” America is an idea as much as it is a place. Perhaps that is also true of the Midwest — and all our regions.

It’s the sort of conversation that could make us the target of giggles, should it ever expand to include the non-north.

And now it’s too late to stop it. NPR picked it up this morning on Morning Edition. Prepare accordingly.

  1. Listen Should Minnesota Bid Adieu To The Midwest, Hello North?

    January 7, 2014

“One of the people quoted goes to the ice house for peace and quiet?” one commenter on the NPR website notes. “There’s your problem.”

We led with our glass chins.

Related: If Minnesota isn't in the Midwest, what's our identity? (MPR News’ Daily Circuit).