Who Do You Think You Are? – Colin Woodard’s American Nations Will Help You Understand… You


We spend a lifetime trying to understand people – make that peoples.

In one sense, each person is a true individual. He or she stands alone, and his/her dreams and traits and practices and habits and issues and hopes are unique to that one individual.

But, on the other hand, there are a number of approaches to help us understand people and peoples. We can learn from Maslow (where on the hierarchy is this person?), we can look at personality types; we can look at generational differences, economic differences; gender differences. Understanding where someone came from is an important step in better understanding any one person.

My wife is fully hooked on the television show Who Do You Think You Are? On this show, celebrities trace their genealogical history. Last night, we watched a (recorded) episode, and the celebrity traced her roots back to a line that is part of my wife’s line. She was pretty enthralled…

Now, I know the danger. Not all millennials are alike. Not all Baby Boomers are alike. Not all introverts are alike.

And, not all Southerners are alike. Or Californians. Or Texans.

But, still… knowing the background, the “peoples” in a region, helps us understand.

cover._American_Nations-576x860So, I have a book to recommend to you. As you seek to understand people and peoples, add American Nations to your reading list. I have done a fast trip through it, and am now reading it slowly – leisurely. Colin Woodard, the author, traces the folks in North America to eleven founding “nations.” Not nation states – but peoples… The book: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America is a fascinating read.

Here are just a couple of slices of the book to whet your appetite. I grew up in the “Deep South,” and so I was especially interested in that section of the book. From the book:

The Deep South was founded by Barbados slave lords as a West-Indies-style slave society, a system so cruel and despotic that it shocked even its seventeenth-century English contemporaries.

…the region has been the bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was privilege for the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many.

{Compare that excerpt to these words from Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America. In his “Cornerstone Speech,” delivered in March, 1861, he repudiated the founding ideas of the United States of America, and stated:

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.}

It’s hard to know the why for certain — but I know that I have been immersed in the study of the Civil Rights movement, racial injustice, and social justice issues for most of my adult life.  Maybe I was responding to the racism that was such a part of the region/city/community that I grew up in.

How important is “region” (their “nation”) to some? Plenty important, for many… From the book:

National affinities consistently trump state ones, and they’ve done so for centuries.
(Note: national affinities here refers to these eleven nations).

So, what are the eleven nations? They are:

El Norte
New France
Tidewater
Yankeedom
New Netherland
The Deep South
The Midlands
Greater Appalachia
The Left Coast
The Far West
First Nation

Take a good look at the map to see the locations of these eleven nations.

Click on map for full view
Click on map for full view

The book describes each of these nations in readable narratives. It is a well-written, easy to follow book. On Amazon, it is at 4 ½ stars after 321 reviews. In other words, a good, important book. And, a good read!

I really don’t know how to get to know people in the best way. But this much I have come to understand. Individuals do not fully grasp what made them (makes them) what they are. They do not understand the influence of: being a Baby Boomer; being a white male; being a part of the Deep South. But all of these have helped shape a person, in ways almost beyond that person’s understanding. (Yes, I’ve named three identifiers of… me).

This is a good book. Worth a slow, thoughtful reading. I hope you will check it out.

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