Maybe we got the Bloom thing wrong

Maybe it’s not Bloom. Maybe the Atlantic has always had it out for Iowa.

Or, at the very least, it has had a “New Yorker’s” view of the world, as you can see above and I talk about more below.

In 1900, the Atlantic published a piece on Iowa similar to what they ran last week, and, in fact, it supports the notion that I talked about in The Daily Iowan, that the issue about how Iowa has been described isn’t as much about the most recent Atlantic author, Steve Bloom, is it is about how we talk about place.

The August 1900 Atlantic piece that appears in this collection of articles was written by Rollin Lynde Hartt, who was also writing similar histories throughout the U.S. at the time.

The piece likens Iowa to a flying island of Laputa, to Mesopotamia.

We have a great climate.

We are an ordered people of good behavior.

We are short and simple.

We can be put into three words: “corn, cow, and hog.”

“Great” is our “Iowa hen.” And our pigeons.


“The sober truth is, the lowans are an effect in drabs and grays. The state
is too young for quaintness, too old for
romance. Its people are so uniformly
respectable that they will attempt nothing
quixotic or piratical; so prosily conventional that if by chance they do anything
unusual, they undo it next day.”

You can read more below, and it’s worth it. The comparisons to the more recent Atlantic piece, or at least the generalizations of Iowa in both pieces, are striking. (Makes you wonder if there are such things as new ideas, which itself isn’t a new idea.)

The Iowans 1900 Atlantic

Why isn’t the Atlantic’s recent, controversial take on Iowa (which was part of political coverage of the upcoming caucuses and by the Atlantic’s assessment may have been misread) really that different than what it wrote more than 100 years ago?

Well, think about this:

Imagine a United States where Philadelphia is its own state and Iowa has been replaced by Colorado, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. In this version of the U.S., there is no Nebraska, New York is the size of New England, and half of the Southwest is called “Indian Territory.” This is a New Yorker’s map of the country drawn in 1936 by artist Daniel Wallingford, at the top of the post.

His satire highlights the exaggerated views of East Coasters’ self-importance. Wallingford depicts bloated self-worth in another map – this one from a Bostonian’s perspective: Cape Cod jets into the ocean as a sea shelf nearly a dozen times its true size, the Midwest – labeled “Western Plaines” – is blank, and Seattle appears to be in Oregon. More famous examples have also appeared throughout popular culture, including on the cover of New Yorker magazine in 1976.

These maps may be considered many things – maybe art, maybe just humor – but few would likely consider them accurate portrayals of the U.S. or as guides to get from “point A” to “point B.” In that sense, these aren’t “real” maps. Yet, Wallingford’s drawings of how self-centered city slickers may view the rest of the country is a good example – whether he knew it or not at the time – of human geography, the study of how people construct beliefs about space and place.

So is this debate really about Steve Bloom, the author of the more recent Atlantic piece? Or is there something else going on here?

What can we take from this recent uproar that is about journalism, not, maybe, just individuals who are in journalism? Or, is journalism, perhaps, more about the newsworkers than we would like to admit?