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American Nations

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American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
Cover of American Nations
AuthorColin Woodard
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America is an American non-fiction book written by Colin Woodard and published in 2011. Woodard proposes a framework for examining American history and current events based on a view of the country as a federation of eleven nations, each defined by a shared culture established by each nation's founding population.

Noting that the original thirteen colonies were established at different times and by different groups with different goals and values, Woodard shows how these colonies both cooperated and competed from their founding. The principles held dear by each colony often conflicted with those of other colonies, and those conflicting agendas shaped the founding and growth of the United States. As the country expanded, the populace that moved into the new territory brought with it the culture of the society from which they came, resulting in nations – a group that shares a common culture and origin – divorced from legal state and international boundaries. American Nations argues that the contrasts between regional cultures, as opposed to state or national borders, provide a more useful and accurate explanation of events and movements.

Woodard has written two sequels: American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good (Viking, 2016) and Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood (Viking, 2020). He has referred to them as an "informal American Nations trilogy."[1]

The eleven nations[edit]

Of the nations, Woodard explains, "It isn’t that residents of one or another nation all think the same, but rather that they are all embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes – each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless."

The Mayflower Compact, 1620
George Washington by John Trumbull (1780)
  • Tidewater was founded by Cavaliers (Royalists during the era of the English Civil War and Stuart Restoration), and consists of Virginia, Maryland, southern Delaware, and northeastern North Carolina. Has cooperated often with Deep South and Greater Appalachia. Together with George Washington, many of the Founding Fathers came from here. Appalachian mountains cut its expansion westwards, and the region is now being overrun by the Midlands.
  • Greater Appalachia was populated by waves of immigrants that Woodard calls Borderlanders, from the borders of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands. Greater Appalachia covers the highlands in the south United States, the southern parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, most of Oklahoma, and Texas Hill Country. Its fighting spirit is embodied by figures such as Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson and Douglas MacArthur.
  • Midlands, founded by English Quakers followed by the Pennsylvania Dutch, consists of southeast Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, northern Delaware and Maryland, central Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, northern Missouri, most of Iowa, and the eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, as well has southern Ontario. The border city of Chicago is shared with Yankeedom and St. Louis with Greater Appalachia. Midlands promotes peaceful values and has often been in several elections the great swing-region between Yankeedom and the Southern Nations. According to Woodard it is culturally the most "American" of the nations.
  • New France began in 1604 with an expedition from France led by Pierre Dugua. It grew to encompass the lower third of Quebec, north and northeast New Brunswick, and southern Louisiana.
Brigham Young bust portrait
  • El Norte is where the oldest European subculture in the United States is found, from the early Catholic Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Later augmented by Anglo-Americans from Deep South and Greater Appalachia, it includes south and west Texas, southern California and its Imperial Valley, southern Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, and the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California.
  • Far West is the interior of the United States and Canada west of the 100th meridian between El Norte and First Nation. It includes the interiors of California, Oregon, and Washington, much of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alaska, part of Yukon and Northwest Territories, the west halves of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, as well as Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. The region has been "imperialized" by other nations, such as Yankeedom and Deep South with large mining and infrastructure projects. The Mormon Enclave has been its politically most influential group.
  • 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. It encompasses the land between the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Ranges from Monterey, California to Juneau, Alaska, containing parts of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. It is an ideological ally with Yankeedom and El Norte.
  • First Nation, founded by the predominant indigenous peoples in Canada south of the Arctic Circle, consists of much of Yukon, Northwest Territories, Labrador, Nunavut, Greenland, the northern tier of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, northwestern British Columbia, and the northern two-thirds of Quebec. It has preserved much better its culture and customs than the Native Americans in the United States.

The alliances[edit]

American Nations contends that, on most matters, two major alliances of nations are commonly opposed to each other: the northern alliance of Yankeedom, the New Netherland and the Left Coast, and the southern alliance of the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, and Tidewater. The remaining nations – Midlands, New France, El Norte, and Far West – generally swing individually toward the views of either alliance, depending on the issue. The positions of those "swing" nations determine shifts in the balance of power in the US.[2] For example, the southern alliance is reliably in favor of foreign wars and the northern alliance is generally opposed.[3]


James M. Rubenstein, professor of geography at Miami University, criticizes the generalizations about the cultures, yet says Woodard's "fundamental point is sound".[4]

Writing for the journal The Social Contract, Michael Masters takes issue with some of the book's perspectives on history, particularly Woodard's description of the Bill of Rights being based on the Articles of Capitulation on the Reduction of New Netherland, and contends that American Nations fails to adequately address the vast numbers of later immigrants.[5]

A starred review in Kirkus concludes, "Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book."[6]

MarketWatch, examining the book in the context of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, says "Woodard’s redrawn map is winning fans who see it as providing some fresh insight into what is going on in American politics."[7]

The Green Papers observes that while both American Nations and the earlier The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau correctly note that cultures of states are "not so easily shoe-horned" into the regions to which they are typically assigned[8] and that the influences of these cultures transcend international boundaries into Mexico and Canada,[9] the reality is that Congressional representatives and senators are elected by states.[8]

A reviewer for the Portland, Maine Press Herald calls Woodard's arguments compelling and the book well-written and superb. Noting the similarity to The Nine Nations of North America, the reviewer points out that Garreau's framework is more about economical factors where American Nations is about "adherence to ideas and approaches to doing things." He questions the absence of southern Florida and the Caribbean, and Hawaii and the Pacific.[10]

The Washington Post calls it "a compelling and informative attempt to make sense of the regional divides in North America in general and this country in particular", noting how American Nations builds on the foundation of David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed and addresses immigration and mobility with the argument that new arrivals adapt to the existing cultures. The review, like others, identifies a bias in Yankee Woodard's characterizations of Deep South.[11]

The Wall Street Journal compares American Nations to Albion's Seed and The Nine Nations and concludes, "Mr. Woodard's approach is breezier than Mr. Fischer's and more historical than Mr. Garreau's, but he has earned a place on the shelf between them", yet identifies "enough annoying errors to make one wary of its often original analysis".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Woodard, Colin (April 9, 2012). "World Wide Woodard: Presenting the (slighty [sic] revised) American Nations map". World Wide Woodard. Retrieved July 2, 2021.
  2. ^ Kettmann, Steve (November 5, 2011). "Colin Woodard's 'Eleven Nations' Shows a Less Than United States". The Daily Beast. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  3. ^ "MHQ Reviews: Colin Woodard's American Nations". HistoryNet. November 8, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Rubenstein, James M. (December 4, 2012). "American Nations A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard". Indiana Magazine of History. 108 (4): 424–426. doi:10.5378/indimagahist.108.4.0424.
  5. ^ "The Social Contract Book Review: Irreconcilable Differences- The American nation that never was". www.thesocialcontract.com. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  6. ^ AMERICAN NATIONS | Kirkus Reviews.
  7. ^ Delamaide, Darrell. "How culture determines who wins elections". MarketWatch. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "2018 Congressional Party Breakdown by Section and Region". www.thegreenpapers.com. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  9. ^ "Canadian Political Parties by Region". www.thegreenpapers.com. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  10. ^ Barry, William David (December 11, 2011). "Book Review: Fascinating visit to 'American Nations'". Press Herald. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  11. ^ MacGillis, Alec (November 18, 2011). "'American Nations' by Colin Woodard, a study of our 'rival regional cultures'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  12. ^ Barone, Michael (October 10, 2011). "Life May Differ In Your Region". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved May 28, 2020.

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