United States Regions


Figure 1.--This photo showing five siblings was taken about 1940 somewhere in a southern State. Overalls untill after World War II were commonly worn in the South, although they were also worn in other rural areas. Hunting ws also very poular in the South. It was an important source of mear for poor fmiklie.

Geographers vary as to the how they divide the United States into regions. The most simple is the four basic compass coordinates: Northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest. This is a regional division based on gepgraphy. But much more is involved in our assessment. These states in these regions are not only geographically united, but share historical, cultural, economic, climatic, ethnic, and other characteristics. Many of these factors, except for geography and climate, have become blurred since World War II as a result of greater mobility and mass media as well as Hispsanic migration. Texas and California as wll as the Midwest rather complicate the matter. The state has both southern nd western charateristics. And California staddles the southwest and northwest in both geography ad culture. Thus it is probably best to devise a separate grouping for the west encompasing the northwest and to cresate the Midwest as a destinct region. We thus for the purposes of our study have accepted five basic regions. These regions are the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and the West. In addition there are some outlyers. Alaska can be considered paer of te West, but seems almost a region in itself, despite the small population. Hawaii is often grouped with the West, but might be considered under Pacific territories with American Samoa and other island possessions. And of course historically this would include the Philippine Islands during the first very eventful first hslf of the 20th century. There are also Caribbean possessions, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Northeast

The Northeast is one of the two areas originally settled by the English in North America. This began at Plymouth (1620). American histories commonly give more attention to Plymouth than Jamestown (1609). This is probably because the basic Protestant character and capitalist free labor system that came to define the United States was set a Plymouth. Other settlements had more diverse origins, but religuious disidents were from the beginning an important part of the English settlement. This was in stark contrast to the French, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies from which Protestants were excluded. Religious diversity was at the time considered a weakness, even by English kings. That diversity led, however, to reliogious toleration that proved after the American Revolution proved to bedan enormopus strength of the new Republic. Protestant Christianity also supported the development of modern induistrial capitalism. Here the basis of English law was of huge imporytance. Jefferson ideas of a country people by small scale farmers for many years were idealized by historians. But it was Hamilton's vision of free marker capitalism and commerce that became the engine of development in the Northeast and eventually the country as a hold. Even before the Recvolution, America had become an important commercial power with a large merchant navy. Before the Revolution, those ships carried mostly raw materials. After the Revolution, freed from the strictures of British colonizl,policy, manufactured goods steadily imcreased in importance. To an extent, manufscturing was imposed upon New Englzand, because of thecrelatively poor, ricky soil. As new colonies developed in the Mid-Atlantic area, more productive areas were brought under cultivation. And the development of the Northeast was from the beginning primarily the result of free labor which proved much more profuctive than the slavery which developed in the South.

Southeast

The Southeast is primarily the 11 slave staes of the old Confederacy, including West Virginia which was part of Virginia at the time of secession. Two border slave states (Deleware, Maryland, and Kentucky) did not secede, but are usually classified as southern states. Texas did seceed, but we believe is best classified with the southwest. The Southeast includes the Atlanic coast original colonies (Delewasare, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia), the western terrirories (Alabama, Mississpi, Tennessee, and Kenticky), and the Lousisana Purchase (Louisina and Akansas). These states share a great deal of historty, economica, and culture. Here slavery was promimant during the colonial era and early years of the Republic. King cotton dominated he economy during the 19th century. Segregation prevailed from the Civil War through the 1960s. Ethnically the Southeast include most of the black population until the Great Migration of the early-20th century. And the Southeast did not participate in the wave of European migration during the late-19th and early-20th century.

Midwest

The American Midwest began as the West at a time when the United States ended at the Mississippi River. The Modwest became the northern portion of the West, the area north of the Ohio River. Here was settled the idea that new states would enter the Union with the sames rights as the existing states. The area to the south because of slavery became part of the area known basically as the South in a cultural context or the Southeastern quadrant of the United States. The Appalachan Mountains impeded the settlemebt of the eastern Midwest. Although it was difficult, pep[;e could get into the area, but getting btheir produce east was virtuslly impossdible. This onlly began to change with the steam-powered riverboats amnd the Erie Canal. After the Louisian Purchase (1803), the Midest began to take shape with the addition of what would become the Planes States. It was here that the North and South vived for dominance before the Civil War with the outbreak of violence in Bloody Kansas (1850s). The Western Midwest became an importnt part of what becme known as the Old West with cattle drives and cowboys. Wars were fought with the Planes Indians. The Midwest was largely made possible by the railroads which meant that the agricultural harvests and livestock could be easily brought east. The area became the bread basket of the Uninted states aided by Cyrus McCormick and his mechanical reaper--the first read advance in harvesting since the invention of the scythe. And the railrods played a major role in bringing immigrants to America as their lines were only valuable if people settled on the Planes. And smack in the middle of the Midwest rose from nothing to become one of the great American cities--Chicago. The region was largely agricultural until the Civil War when industrial cities begsn to rise in the eastern portion of the Midwest. And it was to these new industrial cities that the massive European immigration sought jobs in cities rather than in rural areas. Thus throughout the Midwest today we have European ethnic enclaves.

Southwest

The Southwest is essentially northern Mexico, includng Texas. This was the part of the West that the United States did not obtain in the Louisuana Purchase (1803). Texas separated from Mexico as a the Texas War for Independence (1835-36). Texas did not, however, join the Union. This did not occur until the the Mexican American War (1846-48). Texas joined the Union and the United States obtained the Mexican Cession--essentioally the Southwest. The Mexican Cession included California. Here we think California is best considered as part of the West, although a good case could be made for including southern California with the Southwest. The Southeast was very lightly setlled at the time. Thus Americans moving into the area soon overshadowed the Mexican population. Mexicans living in the area were automstically granted American citizenship. Hispanics until the 1970s largely lived in the Southwest and southern Califoirnia. The exception were Puerto Ricans and Cubans. The southwest is geographically different than much of the rest of the counrtry. Large areas of the Southwest are arid and not suitable for argiculture.

West

The Amereican West can be defined in many ways. It is essentially the area west of the Mississppi. The original United States as ceded by Britain stopped at the Mississippi. Geography and history make a more meaninful regional definition as west of the Midwestern Plains states and nortwest of the Southwestern states. This thus defines the West as California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rocky Mountain states. Some authors define the West differently. Some authors see the West as the area now commonly seen as the Old West with cattle drives and cowboys, much of which is located to the east and south of the West as we decribe it. The region was opened by Lewis and Clarke and the mountain men hunting furs. Part of the region was acquired as part of the Louisian Purchase (1803), although possession of the Pacific Northwest was dispute with Britain and the border was not settled the Oregon Treaty finalized it (1846). The rest of the West was acquired as a result of the Mexican-American War (1846-48). California was very lightly settled at the time of the outbreak of the Mexican-American War (1846). The Califorina Gold Rush changed that (1848-49). California entered the Union soon after, never having a territorial government (1850). Califormia is large enough especially after the growth in population to be a region unto its own. The fertile land in the Oregon Territory reported by Lewis and Clarke and mountain men led to an influx of settlers, especially in the Willimette Valley. Thus Oregon became a state relatively early (1859). Lumber and fishing became important elements of the economy. The Rocky Mountain states entered the Union much later with relatively small populations. Mining was a major part of the economy in these states.

Alaska

Alaska is most associated with the Pacific northwest, but in our rehional divisions of the west, Alaska as it is not contgiguous with the "lower 48" and located at such a northerly latitude seems best considered as a separate region. The huge area of the state make it a sizeable region although the population is miniscule. Alaska was where the first humans first reached the Americas, across the Bearing Sea Ice age land bridge (the modern Aleutians). The first Europeans, Vitus Bearing and Alwksey Chirikov, found Alaska (1741). Russian fur traders followed. The first permanent settlement was on Kodiak Iskand (1784). Alexsandr Baranov dominated the early history of the Russian colony. He extended the fur trade south. The southern border of Alaska arose as a result of the American-British dispute over the Oregon Territory (1824). The United Stares purchased Alaska (1867). The Russian sale was in part promted by the fear that the British might seize it. Americans first called Alaska "Seward's Folly" after the secretary of state who negotiated the purchase. An American government was established after gold was discovered near Fairbabks (1884). The discovery of gold in theKlondike brought in the first substantial influx of Americans (1896). Further strikes followed in Nome and Fairbanks. The eastern boundary with Canada was settled (1903). Fur remained a major economic activity, but the population was declining. A arrangement was reached with Canada and Rusdia (1911). Alaska was given territorial status (1912). Alaska became a World War II battlefield when Japan invased the Aleutian Islands (1942). The United States built the Alaska Highway to ptovide a land route to Alaska. Alaska became the 49th state (1959). The population has grown, but is still cert small. Alaska is seen as the Last Frontier. The ecomony is based on farming, fishing, mining, and other activities. Important oil discovering have been made. Earthquakes have neen reported, including an especially severe one (1984).

Pacific

The only Pacific state is of course Hawaii which has a fascinating history of its own. Hawaii is the 50th and most recent state to enter the Union (1959). Hawaii has the destinction of being the only U.S. state located in the Pacific/Oceania and the only one consisting entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia which domintes the South Pacific. Hawaii occupies almost all of the volcanic Hawaiian archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean. It cinsists of hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 miles. The major islands with almost all of the population are located in the southeastern end of the archipelago. The eight main islands are: Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui and the Island of Hawaiʻi. The last is the largest island in the group and the one for which thr achipelgo is named. As a result it is known locally as the 'Big Island'. " or "Hawaiʻi Island" to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago. The Hawaiian archipelago is physiographically and ethnologically part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania, although Polynesians (native Hawaiians) are a very small part of the population. While Hawaii is the only Pacific state, it is not the only American territory in the Pacific. Inhabited territories include: Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. Uninhabited territories administered by the Interior Department include Palmyra Atoll, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Midway Islands. While claimed by the United States, the ownership of Wake Island is disputed. While most of this list is virtually unknown to even Americans, several played an important role in the Pacific War. The Midway Atol was at the western terminus of the Hawaiian Archepeligo, a mere fly speck in the vast Pacific but was the location of the most important naval battle of the Pacific War.

Caribbean

The United States had three Caribbean territories: the Panama Canal Zone, Puertp Rico, and the Vurgin Islands. The Panama Canal Zone was acquired after the United States supported a Panamanian revolt from Colombia and began building the Canal (1903). It was transferred to Panama (1970s). Puerto Rica was the largest American possession in the Caribbean. The Island was acquired from Spain during the Spanish American War (1898-99). The primary focus of the War was Cuba, but as Spain also controlled Puerto Rico, the United state also lnded on the island. It was much less defended than Cuba. Puerto Rico was one of the first Spanish colonies in the New World. The Spanish enslaved the Native American population they found on the island and through midstreatment they quickly died out. The Spanish than began importing Black Africans to work as slaves. Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanosh colonies. The United States liberated both islands in the Spanish American War (1898). Puerto Rico became an American Commonwealth. As a result Puerto Rican has been influenced by both Spain And the United States It is now a Commonwealth. After the construction of the Panama Canal, it became an important part of the defenses. The United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark during World War I (1917). The primary interest was the defense of the Panama Canal and the possibility tht Germny might invade Denmark or otherwise acquire the islands. They are very small and have developed an economy based primarily on tourism.






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Created: 2:44 AM 11/17/2009
Last updated: 10:32 PM 12/18/2016