Event—Public Programming

The Midwest as Place


Myths and stereotypes about the Midwest, often called the “Heartland,” have informed American culture for generations. Insulated. Homogenous. Flat. Flyover Country. “Real” America. These ideas have power, yet they all obscure important realities about the Midwest’s past and its present.

In this installment of “Conversations at the Newberry,” historians Kristin Hoganson and Timothy Gilfoyle examine myths about the “Heartland” and consider what these myths reveal about the local and the global, the urban and the rural, and the middle and periphery. Hoganson and Gilfoyle will challenge us to think about the Midwest as a much more complex, dynamic region than most people imagine.

Kristin Hoganson is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, specializing in the history of the United States in world context, cultures of U.S. imperialism, and transnational history. Her recent research has taken her into the history of the rural heartland, with forays into such topics as the politics of locality, converging borderlands, imperial piggybacking, isolationism, aerial consciousness, diaspora, exile, and struggles for the right to return.

In The Heartland: An American History, Hoganson takes the concept of the American "heartland" as a starting point for a trenchant analysis of Midwestern politics and history. Hoganson challenges the distorted nostalgia with which the Midwest is revered as a “symbolic center in national mythologies" and traces the complicated histories of border brokering, Indigenous displacement and relocation, agricultural imperialism, and alliance politics that shaped this vast and multitudinous region.

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Timothy Gilfoyle is Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, where he teaches American urban and social history. Gilfoyle's research has focused on the development and evolution of various nineteenth-century urban underworld subcultures and informal economies, exemplified by A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York. His interest in urban planning and public space led to the publication of Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark.

Gilfoyle is a trustee of the Chicago History Museum and a member of the executive board of the Society of American Historians. He was previously a member of the board of directors for the Chicago Metro History Education Center. He has been a Minow Family Foundation Fellow, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, a Senior Fellow at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and an NEH/Lloyd Lewis Fellow at the Newberry. He is an elected fellow of the Society of American Historians and the American Antiquarian Society.

“Conversations at the Newberry” is generously sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray. This event is part of our programming related to the Newberry's What Is the Midwest? project, funded by a major grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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