Patterns of Regional Culture

United States Geography

Some argue that one of the great strengths of the United States is that it is the world's largest and most populous country joined geographically and socially by a common language. Nevertheless, most of the regions identified in this text are at least in part culture regions.

Regional variation in culture may be expressed in many different ways. Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois produce far more big-time college basketball players per capita than the national average. The vast majority of early country music singers were from the upper South.

The landscape of an area is a blending of the natural environment and a cultural imprint. The land survey system used widely in the United States during the 19th century created a striking grid rectangularity to the landscape of much of the Middle West. The German and English farmers of southeastern Pennsylvania built large cattle and hay storage barns with a second story extension over the first on one side. While students of folk architecture may argue its origins, most agree that this "Pennsylvania barn" is a key identifying element in the landscape of the state's culture area. Ethnic areas in many cities can be located simply by looking at the names on small neighborhood stores and restaurants.

While many aspects of culture are conservative and consistent, change is nevertheless a constant part of American culture. Many of the alterations result from changes in technology and economic conditions. Migration is another key ingredient.

Of the individual elements of American culture, one of the most interesting and telling is religion. A number of the larger Christian churches were brought to America by European migrants. The distribution of these denominations closely matches the areas where those migrant groups and their descendants form a large part of the population. For example, German and Scandinavian settlers carried their Lutheran church to the northern Great Plains and the northwest portion of the Agricultural Core. Hispanics in the Southwest, southern and eastern Europeans in the Northeast, the Middle West, and most large cities outside the South, and French Acadians who migrated to southern Louisiana--all help explain the widespread distribution of Roman Catholicism in America.

The United States has also been a place of active denominational creation. Several denominations, such as the Episcopalians (formerly part of the English Anglican church), were created at the end of the American Revolution in the late 1700s. Presbyterianism in the United States is divided into several denominations as a result of a post-Civil War split.

Another explanation has been the creativity of American religion. Individuals established their own churches--or congregations or groups of congregations left a denomination to form a new one--because of disagreements over such questions as biblical interpretation or church administration.

One native American church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church. Founded in upstate New York in the mid-19th century, it was gradually carried westward by its followers in search of an isolated place to settle and follow their beliefs. They eventually chose Utah. Today, most residents of Utah are Mormons.

Southern Baptists are an interesting joining of several of the above explanations. Baptism was brought to America by early European migrants as a non-established church seeking freedom of worship. During the last third of the 19th century, it was almost the religious expression of Southern culture and became the dominant regional church. One measure of whether a community is culturally part of the South surely must be the existence in it of at least one Southern Baptist church.

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Source: U.S. Department of State