Notes & Comments: Thinking About Regions

By: Gregory Wilson, University of Akron
Publication Director, Northeast Ohio Journal of History

The Northeast Ohio Journal of History bills itself as a regional enterprise. However, this masks the many complexities involved in defining a region. Of course, the concept of a region is a human creation, an effort to simplify discussions of disparate events, or to generalize about certain trends, issues, and events noticed in various local or state locations. Within the history of the United States, writers have made great and frequent use of regions: the West, the Great Lakes, Appalachia, the Northwest, the Great Plains, the South and so on. By its nature, defining a region means creating an entity that is unique in some fashion, different from other places around it according to some combination of cultural, economic, environmental, political, or social attributes. Regional boundaries are fluid, flexible, and porous and thus it is a matter of debate as to what is or is not part of a region. For example, the South usually refers to the 11 states that seceded in 1861; yet at times, historians have expanded this to include West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Oklahoma. Including 11 makes the South a region defined politically by secession, but including 4 others means historians must go beyond political categories and search for other attributes that bind together people and places. In the case of the South, what makes the 4 others “southern”? The former presence of slavery? Accents and words in the language? Food and folkways?  Geographic features? Economic data? Again, there are multiple factors at work in defining places as regions. Continue reading Notes & Comments: Thinking About Regions