December 28, 2011

New England as One of the 'Nine Nations' of North America

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When I was around 12-years-old, my aunts and uncles thought it'd be fun to take us cousins down to North Carolina, where one of our long-lost relatives had a "beach house" on the coast. As it turned out, that house wasn't exactly on the coast, but was instead on a man-made channel, which the locals referred to as "the ditch."

On the first day of chatting with our neighbors on the ditch, it became clear that we had entered an entirely different world. Our spitfire Boston accents resonated in stark contrast to their laid-back Southern drawls, while our get-up-and-go!-go!-go! approach to the day's events were clearly at odds with their let's-sit-back-and-stay-awhile mentality. After just minutes of conversation, these obvious linguistic and cultural differences prompted one of our North Carolina neighbors to inquire facetiously, "Are y'all from northern North Carolina?"

That trip marked the first time that I would witness, first-hand, the concept of there being different cultural regions, or nations, within the confines of the United States. In 1981, Joel Garreau of the Washington Post divided not only the United States, but all of North America into nine cultural nations. Garreau's divisions were based on social and economic data that he gathered during two years of traveling across the continent.

You can see the nine nations on the map above, as well as on the map below:

One of the first things you might notice about New England as a cultural nation is that it extends beyond the United States. In addition to Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, Garreau's New England includes the Canadian areas of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. The reason for their inclusion stems from the fact that these are coastal, predominantly Anglophone (English-speaking) areas of Canada, which share more cultural traits with their Anglophone, American neighbors to the south than they do with their Francophone (French-speaking), Quebecois neighbors to the west.

Here are some of the cultural traits, which, according to Garreau, are characteristic of the New England nation (bear in mind that these are from 1981):

  • New Englanders consider themselves to be more civilized than people from other areas 

  • New Englanders consider themselves to be academic elitists

  • New Englanders have strong, independent characters and are known for their "shrewd trading" and ingenuity

  • New England's cultural imagery includes cast-iron wood stoves, multicolored autumn leaves and maple syrup

  • New England's scenery and surroundings (woodlands, waters) are its primary social and economic assets

  • The dominant industries are leather, apparel and textiles. However, "New England is rapidly transforming itself into North America's first truly twenty-first-century, postindustrial society, and, as such, it is again a land of pioneers." High technology = the future of the New England economy.

 What do you think of Garreau's assessment? Leave a comment below.


Marvin Harris and Cultural Materialism: Robert N. St. Clair, University of Louisville

Harper College: Nine Nations of North America

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