Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2011


Great Plains Research Vol. 21, No. 2, 2011


© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


Shrinking farm numbers, population losses, and empty storefronts on Main Street have come to be seen as symptoms of an inevitable slide to oblivion for many Heartland communities. Empirical evidence of such decline is easily found, making the trend a favorite topic for journalists. In Remaking the Heartland, Robert Wuthnow offers a very different interpretation of the same trends. His central argument is that Middle America (defined as eight states including most of the Great Plains) has been characterized by adaptation to changing social and economic realities in a way that has made the region a "more vibrant contributor to the national economy" today than it was a half-century ago. Wuthnow does not deny the difficulties brought on by depopulation. But, rather than dwelling on nostalgia for the past or fretting over the future, he chooses to concentrate on the tenacity that has allowed many Heartland communities to survive and even prosper in the face of regional downsizing. To bolster his case, he calls upon a complex "multimethod" analysis using personal interviews; archival statistical data about individuals, communities, and counties; and local histories, events, and publications. The result is an interesting and scholarly mix of historical and sociological research.