Eleven American Nations
Ted Lasso’s question and answer remind me of the great diversity that can exist in one country. Have you ever traveled to another part of the vast United States and felt like you were in another country? English is spoken but with a different accent, the restaurants are the same but with a certain ethnic flavor, people are a bit friendlier or a little less friendly…it’s the same but different. Why? Well, you’re still in the same country, but the culture has changed. This is normal around the world. The single country of India includes thousands of ethno-linguistic groups, Nigeria includes hundreds of tribal groups, and China includes dozens of distinct people groups. The United States of America, like many other countries, includes a range of cultures and subcultures within its borders.
There are many ways to understand the cultural diversity of the US. In his book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, author Colin Woodard breaks the cultural makeup of America into “11 nations.” The 11 “American Nations,” Woodard explains, are not geopolitical entities, like in the United Kingdom, or ethno-linguistic groups, as in India. Rather, the eleven distinct regions each possess a history, and in many cases different ethnic origins, resulting in particular cultural values and norms. In other words, 11 nations within One Nation.
Below is a map of the eleven ‘nations’ of America according to Colin Woodard. A brief description follows.
- Tidewater was founded with the Jamestown settlement by upper class aristocratic English.
- Yankeedom began with the English Pilgrims in Plymouth Rock with their influence expanding west. Yankeedom values education and communal, democratic decision-making.
- New Netherland, established by Dutch colonists, is now greater New York City. The region promotes progressive values, tolerance, multiculturalism, business, and the freedom of the press.
- Deep South was settled by former West Indies slave-owning plantation operators. It values free-markets and individual freedom.
- The Midlands was founded by English Quakers, German Amish, and Mennonites in Pennsylvania and expanding west. According to Woodard, it is culturally the most ‘American’ of the nations.
- Greater Appalachia was populated by waves of immigrants from war-torn Northern Ireland and the Scottish lowlands. Characterized by individual liberty and a fighting spirit, it produced leaders like Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and Douglas MacArthur.
- The Left Coast was predominantly settled by Yankees from New England, with a huge influx from Greater Appalachia and countries around the world when gold was discovered. The region is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration.
- The Far West has been ‘imperialized’ by other nations, such as Yankeedom, Deep South, and The Left Coast, with large mining and infrastructure projects.
- New France began in 1604 with an expedition from France and is progressive and tolerant.
- El Norte was settled by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. The region values independence, self-sufficiency, and hard work.
- First Nation are indigenous peoples mostly living in northern Canada.
Note: These nations are fluid. There are Yankee enclaves in the Deep South, and Midland subcultures in El Norte, etc.
The Birth of the Nations
Woodard explains that the 11 nations go back centuries, originating with the early European immigrants. The first settlers left an indelible mark on the regions they inhabited. Those settlers then spread throughout the land, taking their unique culture with them. Our government was formed from their common ideals, but the distinct values of these regions endured and were passed on.
“Kind of like America these days.”
I have lived in Yankeedom, The Midlands, and Greater Appalachia, and I’ve noticed different cultural values and practices. Have you had a similar experience? We certainly see differences in the ongoing political struggle between red nations (Deep South, Greater Appalachia) and blue nations (Yankeedom, New Netherland, Left Coast). Consider the differing reactions to COVID-19 directives. Mask mandates and vaccines, for example, were resisted in the Deep South and Greater Appalachia, where the prevailing culture values personal and individual liberty. Meanwhile, other nations, including Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Left Coast, enthusiastically embraced these measures because they valued community cooperation and government regulation.
Woodard gives us a lot to think about. Whether we agree or disagree with Woodards’ specific regions, it is clear that the United States of America is comprised of many different cultures. This is a good reminder for all of us when we engage with a fellow citizen, migrant, or international guest. In these encounters, we should not assume that we know their specific culture just because we know their citizenship. Each person has a unique cultural background, deserving of our sensitivity and understanding.