Best-Selling Author, Journalist Colin Woodard Speaks At Chautauqua

Colin Woodard, best-selling author and award-winning journalist, visits the Hall of Philosophy. His discussion focused on political party lines among counties. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

CHAUTAUQUA — Best selling author and award-winning journalist Colin Woodard recently spoke at the Hall of Philosophy inside Chautauqua Institution where he discussed a different side of political party lines.

Woodard is a contributing editor at Politico as well as a state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. He won a 2012 George Polk Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. Woodard was also named the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association as well as being named one of the Best State Capitol Reporters by The Washington Post.

Woodard’s additional experience includes correspondent reporting in seven continents over 50 years. He is the author of “American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle between Individual Liberty and the Common Good,” a book that was a finalist for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize. He is also the author of “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Cultures of North America” and “The Republic Pirates” that went on to become The New York Times bestseller. The book inspired a TV series “Crossbones” that aired on NBC in 2014.

On July 3, Woodard spoke to an audience gathered in the Hall of Philosophy where he described the 11 rival cultures. Those cultures include areas labeled as Yankeedom, New Netherland, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, El Norte, The Left Coast, The Far West, New France and First Nation. These geographic regions stretch awkwardly across the United States and dipping into Mexico and Canada. Woodard’s main point was that the first settlers essentially created a DNA for specific areas that relatively holds true today.

“They laid down the cultural DNA for their respective regions — the place they first colonized,” he said.

Those cultures incorporate unconventional dividing lines that instead of attaching an entire political culture to a single state, he looks the political history of each county within a state. This viewpoint finds similarities across different states but many difference within various states.

“The institutions, values, unspoken assumptions, the legal social frameworking,” he said have roots from the original settlers. “In short, what anthropologists call culture.”

“The ultimate point was that there’s never been an America, but rather several Americas,” he continued.

Cathie Leimenstoll, a member of the audience, was enthralled by Woodard’s lecture. She currently lives in Maryland, and having previously lived in Tennessee, she can see the differences in political viewpoints.

“I thought it was great because it opened up a whole different way of thinking for me about this nation,” she said.

Woodard decided to analyze Yankeedom for the audience because he viewed Chautauqua as being a “rather Yankeedom institution.”

According to Woodard, Yankeedom was founded by Puritans on the shores of Massachusetts and focuses more on community rather than the individual. The areas incorporates Northeastern states and the industrial Midwest. Woodard said the region tends to be more comfortable with increased government regulation and value education more than the other cultural regions.

Each cultural region Woodard listed has its own historic tendencies that vary from region to region. In the Midlands that incudes Quaker territory through Iowa and area in the Midwest residents tend to be against government involvement.

Separately from the specific regions, Woodard also made a point that while people emigrate to different regions in the country, after several generations the family that moved has essentially assimilated to that of the region’s political views.

“It’s fascinating to me that people really — in three generations (Woodard) said — absorb that original DNA of that area,” Leimenstoll said.