Oklahoma ?

Wyatt  Reader M.A.'s picture

Oklahoma is not included on the current States listed for the web page. Is Oklahoma considered South only ?

Categories: Discussion

Hi Wyatt,

Good question! Speaking as an editor of H-Midwest, we came up with some early definitions for our purposes, and our Midwest did not include Oklahoma. But we also consider our definition not flexible but perhaps completely unnecessary.

Midwestern Studies takes up, among other things, the very question of what exactly is "the Midwest." Some answers include Oklahoma, while many answers have nothing to do with states at all. Some define the Midwest by economic measures, some by cultural terms, some locate borders in geographic features (rather than states' political boundaries). These are debates with the academic field, beyond academia, and within the editorial board of H-Midwest.

I'd love to know what you and others here think. Do you think Oklahoma is Midwest? Or South? Why? There are other states that could be questioned to.

Given Oklahoma's Native American history and energy industry, I always thought of the state in the larger context of the West. If anything, it does raise (or repeat) a larger question regarding the study of American regionalism: to what extent can regions be defined by state boundaries? It's certainly convenient but, as works like Fischer's Albion's Seed or Woodward's American Nations show, things are not always so clearly defined.

Wilbur Zelinsky wrote about Oklahoma in his book Cultural Geography of the United States. He categorized the state as one of three US regions of “uncertain status or affiliation.” (The other two were Texas and peninsula Florida.)

Zelinsky more or less said Oklahoma was divided culturally and geographically east and west. The eastern half of Oklahoma bordering Arkansas used to grow cotton and was like the South, but the western half is more like the Great Plains.

The eastern half, primarily influenced by the South, is further divided by Zelinsky into Upper Southern and Lower Southern regions – colloquially Appalachian South and Deep South. About 8% of the state’s population is black.

But Oklahoma is also distinctive because of its American Indian influence. It remains one of the states with the highest percentage of American Indians. Making it more culturally complex is the fact that the American Indians of Oklahoma were not just from the Great Plains (Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, and others) but also eastern American Indians driven there onto reservations to push them off territories in the East. So Cherokee from the western Carolinas; Chickasaw from Mississippi, Seminole from Florida were forced there -- the “Trail of Tears.” See http://www.okhistory.org/research/oktribes

So today Oklahoma is one of the most complex cultural regions in the US. It's hard to say that Oklahoma is a “Southern state” or a “Western state” or a “Midwestern” state; it’s a blend of all of these.

James W. Fonseca
Professor of Geography and Dean Emeritus
Ohio University Zanesville
1425 Newark Rd. Zanesville OH 43701
740-607-0043 Fax: 740-588-1436