Category Archives: Geography

Pursuing Midwestern History

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m wildly busy working on a new book. This one is about the astonishing history of the Midwest and all the places one can “visit” — from living-history venues to museums, large and small, to many other historic sites. I’m having great fun driving around the region, enjoying the remarkably beautiful forests of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota and vistas across (and fish from) the Great Lakes. I’ve been exploring charming historic inns in Ohio and Illinois, fabulous museums in Nebraska and Kansas, forts in North Dakota and Michigan, reenactments in Indiana, French settlements in Missouri, German farms in Iowa, archaeological digs in South Dakota–though in reality, every state has a fabulous array of all of these things. Older states may have a few more places to visit (and a few more people to support those places), but there is no state that is not a delight. This is a remarkable region with a history far more important than most people realize. So I’m loving getting to both “see” and write about it.

But you don’t necessarily have to go far to visit a bit of Midwestern history. Historical societies in the region actually started up in the 1800s, and most towns or counties (depending on population density) have both societies and museums to display a society’s work. Within half an hour of my home, there are a dozen historical societies, housed in a wide range of buildings (from an entire town square, with church and schoolhouse, to a warehouse to a few large old homes). Just do an Internet search with the name of your town or county and the words “historical society” or possibly “museum”–and then go relive your home’s past, or possibly learn about a place you’ve just arrived. Bigger cities have bigger museums and state capitals usually have museums that cover the whole state. Everybody has history.

Here as an example: This is the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton, IL. This museum offers a charming collection that traces details of local history, from farming to fashion, in a beautiful building that itself reflects the period in which it was built (1890)–and which also has a fascinating history (it was the first public library in Wheaton and one of the first libraries in Illinois to adopt the Dewey decimal system for cataloguing books).
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Filed under Geography, History, Midwest, Travel

The Still Mighty Mississippi

Often, when speaking of the Mississippi River, people think only of the southern part of the river (if they think of it at all). However, the Mississippi starts in Minnesota and half of the states it touches are in the Midwest. Even the name came from a northern people—it’s an Ojibwa word for “Big River.” I think a lot of people also think of the Mississippi as something from our past—especially if they have read Mark Twain. But it is a remarkable part of the world today. Because of its importance, past and present, I thought you might enjoy this video trip down the river, from its peaceful source to it’s often unruly mouth, 2,348 miles farther south.

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Filed under Culture, Geography, History, Midwest, Travel, Video