New Englanders, the culture-dominant minority?

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Cultural Regions of the United States came out in the 1970s, so it is a little dated in terms of “contemporary” observations. For example, the author obviously didn’t internalize the long-term impact of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, as he posited that because of fertility rate differences between traditionalist Quebec and progressive New England the latter region would eventually be inundated by immigrants from the former. Despite the large numbers of French (Quebecois) Americans along the northern periphery of New England the ethnic flood never occurred because of the convergence of cultural mores and birthrates between the two regions. But the data and interpretation of 19th century America in the book remain valuable.

One of the obvious inferences that can be made from the data is that New Englanders shaped the culture and polities of many regions of the United States where they were a minority. Boston was self-consciously the Athens of America. Not only does this region have many elite universities, but the more prominent state institutions such as the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin were started in part by Yankees who valued these sorts of public investments. The role of New Englanders in primary education throughout the United States is well known, Puritan America may have been the world’s first universally literate society, and they were intent on spreading this trait across every group into the United States.

Though New Englanders were often outnumbered by later waves of immigration from the Upland South (e.g., Scots-Irish), as in the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley or Northern California, they were overrepresented among the intelligentsia and captains of industry. In the western Upper Midwest Yankees were absorbed by a sea of Northern European immigration, but for several generations they retained a hold on the cultural and capital classes. One might contend that many of the complaints about the “brainwashing” which occurs at elite universities of bright but impressionable young men and women is simply the latest manifestation of the conflict between numerically superior Middle America and the elitist New England outlook (even outside of New England, see Leland Stanford’s biography).

Here’s a table from page 209:

Nativity in 1850
State of residence Own State Old Northwest New England Middle Atlantic South Europe
Ohio 64% 0% 3% 15% 8% 10%
Indiana 53% 14% 1% 8% 18% 6%
Illinois 41% 13% 4% 13% 15% 13%
Michigan 35% 5% 8% 38% 1% 14%
Wisconsin 21% 8% 9% 26% 2% 35%

There’s an important note to this table, a disproportionate number of those from the “Middle Atlantic” are from areas of upstate New York which were settled from New England, so the proportions for New England are large underestimates. You can see that even in 1850 the general cultural outline of many states was established. In Wisconsin and Minnesota the original Yankee stock paled in comparison to the numbers of Scandinavians and Germans. Far less of this would occur in Michigan, and some immigrant groups such as the Dutch in southwest portion of the state had folkways very similar to those of the Yankees from New England. Some states, such as Illinois and Ohio, were bisected between a northern and southern half where migrants from different areas of the United States settled. In contrast, Indiana was settled mostly from neighboring regions of the South.

Here’s a map of female white life expectancy:

Source: 8 Americas

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12 Comments

  1. The word culture means two things: 
     
    1. The way people do things, behave or think: In this sense of the word David Hackett Fischer would contend that all the early British migrations were culturally dominant, in the sense that later immigrants assimilated into the cultural patterns of their place of settlement. 
    2. High Culture (the definition of which can be regarded as arbitrary), which the Puritans placed more of an emphasis on than the other early settler groups. 
     
    (The lack of distinction between the two meanings of the word can lead to inane discussions about whether primitive peoples ‘have culture’). 
     
    New England Yankees could be said to be culturally-dominant in both senses of the word.

  2. New England Yankees could be said to be culturally-dominant in both senses of the word 
     
    especially for readers of this weblog. but i recall an interview with a music critic from rural new hamsphire who talked about the appeal of southern country music in his working class town….

  3. Boston is certainly no Athens. And Danny you stated that New England is a place of high culture. This is not true. New England for the most part consists of unoriginal people who follow whatever trends are started in Europe. The schools in the Boston area are over-rated too. I remember reading somewhere that Harvard was the top raked school in the world. Whatever does the ranking must be flawed in some fundamental way because Harvard is certainly not the best in terms of the skill of the educators at that institution. Oxford is superior to Harvard by a long shot.

  4. Oxford is superior to Harvard by a long shot. 
     
    this is just not true. at least today (harvard has a higher proportion of pure meritocrats). you don’t know what you’re talking about, and seem to have an ax to grind against new englanders. further comments in this retarded vein will simply not be let through….

  5. Like my comment on previous post, WASP or new Englanders are market-dominant minority in USA. Canada is more likely WASP dominant majority country because of its loyalitist history. 
     
    In a party with Top Politicians and Bussiness people, you will notice their Anglo origin.

  6. Oxford is superior to Harvard by a long shot 
     
    Are you referring to Oxford, Mississippi? If not, then your point is completely irrelevant.

  7. “Oxford is superior to Harvard by a long shot.” 
     
    “this is just not true.” 
     
    Come, come, chaps, how are you to tell? By what objective, measurable criteria that are relevant to whatever issues you have in mind? If you mean the calibre of undergradaute teaching in the Humanities, for instance, how on earth could you measure that?

  8. Come, come, chaps, how are you to tell? By what objective, measurable criteria that are relevant to whatever issues you have in mind? If you mean the calibre of undergradaute teaching in the Humanities, for instance, how on earth could you measure that? 
     
    the comparisons of selectivity are problematic from what i have heard. but, harvard draws from a larger potential pool of applicants, even taking into account oxford’s attraction commonwealth countries. if i had to bet which school had higher average IQs, i’d say harvard on that basis, but they could be the same, or oxford is higher. but, no way oxford has smarter students by “long shot.”

  9. I never said oxford has smarter students by a long shot. I said its a superior academic institution by a long shot.

  10. “harvard draws from a larger pot”: could be, but for undergraduates Oxford and Cambridge now get quite a few from the Continent, and, in the sciences, lots from the Orient, which makes a pretty big pot. Experience at Cambridge is that exchange students from MIT are about a year behind the Cambridge undergrads.

  11. A good indicator of deciphering success amongst selective institutions, as well as the prospective quality of faculty and staff, is to analyze the endowment records. Click on my name for the link.  
     
    This method, of course, does not work as well for major state institutions, who educate dozens of thousands each year.  
     
    Oxford’s endowment is but a 1/4 of Harvard’s.

  12. “A good indicator of deciphering success amongst selective institutions, as well as the prospective quality of faculty and staff, is to analyze the endowment records.” Interesting assertion; how would you justify it, especially across national boundaries, with differing habits and tax codes? Another interpretation is that US universities are absurdly inefficient, given how well Oxford and Cambridge do on a relative pittance.

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