Drew Cayton's Final Thoughts on Midwestern History

Jon Lauck's picture

Drew Cayton's Final Thoughts on Midwestern History – Jon K. Lauck, Midwestern History Association and H-Midwest Advisory Board

On December 4, 2015, at a time of what we now know to be great suffering for Drew Cayton, H-Midwest posted Drew's submitted commentary about Midwestern studies for the H-Net world to see.  His commentary was the first installment in the newly-launched H-Midwest's series posing the question "Why Midwestern Studies?"  On December 17, 2015, Drew passed away, seven months after being diagnosed with colon cancer.  A memorial service will be held for Drew on Monday, December 28 at 2:00 pm at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford, Ohio.

It was most appropriate that Drew made the first commentary about Midwestern studies on the new H-Midwest because over the past three decades nobody did more than Drew to provide leadership to the field of Midwestern history.  From his first book on early Ohio to his book on frontier Indiana to his famous collection of essays about the Midwest to his massive Midwest encyclopedia, Drew gave his vast energies to the study of the Midwest. 

This devotion to studying the Midwest was personal for Drew.  He confessed his affection for Marietta, Ohio and his early life there and told me he "believe[d] strongly in the basic values associated with that world: family, respectability, mutual respect, and integrity, what my mother used to call character."  Drew also said he turned to the study of history after reading a biography of Frederick Jackson Turner, the Midwest's first historian who has come in for much abuse in recent decades.  As much as Drew appreciated his home region and its history, he also did much to complicate an older version of the region's story, to add to it, and to make it more wide-ranging and inclusive of more people and their stories.  To the end, Drew hoped to make Midwestern history a more integrated field organized around big questions and debates.  He maintained his great hope of making Midwestern studies more than a "grab-bag of scholarship set somewhere between Pittsburgh and Denver and north of Cincinnati."

At this sad time and during this season of reflection, here is Drew's initial commentary on H-Midwest from December 4, which may also have been his final thoughts on the field of Midwestern history and midwestern studies.