VIEWSrnThe Significance of the Region inrnAmerican Historyrnby Robert L. DormanrnDuring the carK- 1920’s, 30 vcars after he had written his famousrnessav on the signifieanee of the frontier in the nation’srnhistory, the great American historian Frederick JacksonrnTurner published two other works on the denrocratizing role ofrnwhat he termed the “section.” Sections, Turner wrote, “serve asrnrestraints upon a dcadlv uniformity. The are breakwatersrnagainst overwhelming surges of national emotion. Thc arernfields for experiment in the growth of different types of societv,rnpolitical institutions, and ideals. Thev constitute an impellingrnforce for progress along the diagonal of contending varieties.”rnTurner was right. The section, or more generally, the region,rnis the primordial wcllspring of American pluralism. The countrv’srnmotto, E Phiribiis Vnum (“From man, one”), capturesrnwell what any map of historical geography might reveal—thatrnours has been a nation of regions. Provincialism and regionalismrnpreceded any sense of nationalism in this country and, indeed,rnthe very nationhood of the United States by more than arncenturv. For 200 years after 1776, regionalism and sectionalismrnsuperseded artificial state boundaries and ran as a countcrcurrentrnto the modernizing and nationalizing tendencies of industrialrncapitalism and federal centralization. Regional culturesrnhave thus been an essential part of the dynamic of Americanrnhistorv, centers of resistance against the homogeneity threatenedrnbv “that all-destroving abstraction. America,” as thernSouthern poet Allen Tate once phrased it.rnThe region inspires and embodies the sense of place, of rootcdnessrnin a particular storied landscape. Regional culturesrnRobert L. Dorman is a professor of history at Brown Universitvrnand the author of Revolt of the Provinces: The RegionalistrnMovement m America, 1920-1945 (University of North CarolinarnPress).rnemerged out of the processes of adaptation and interaction thatrnoccurred as diverse peoples with distinctive traditions settledrnand developed America’s vast quiltwork of physical environments.rnA region might be as large as a dozen states (“thernSouth”), with the boundaries of regional identity set by commonrneconomic interests, shared political beliefs, and racial solidaritv.rnOr a region miglit be as small as a single rural communitvrn(“back home”), with an allegiance to place sealed b’rnpersonal memory, family bonds, and neighborK ties. Provincialisnr,rnrcgionalisnr, and sectionalism arc all respective expressionsrnof such regional identity and allegiance, in workaday culture,rnin art and literature, and in polities.rnProvinciahsm is the sum of regional culture as it is unconseioush’rnlied and handed down from generation to generationrnby the folk of a particular locality. Before the modern era,rnprovincialism was largely synonymous with folk cultures—rnsnrall-seale, ethnically homogeneous communities bound togetherrnover time by oral tradition. After the onset of the modernrnera (roughlv. since the 17th centurv), provincialismrnrepresented the survivals and residues of folk cultures that werernable to persist against the progress wrought by commerce, industry,rnand state. Folklore, ritual, modes of work, architecture,rnclothing, dialects, and cuisine are some of the elements thatrncomprise the unique flavor and backdrop of a regional culturernas a folkish, provincial “wav of life.” The cowbov culture thatrnarose in the West during the 19th centur’ is a good example. Itrnwas an amalgam of still older provincial cultures (Scotch-Irishrnherder-was long practiced in the Southern baekcountry; vaquerornskills and terms from the Mexican borderlands—ranch,rnlasso, chaps, rodeo) fused into an indigenous set (^f folkways appropriaternto working large herds in the sparse Western landscape.rn14/CHRONICLESrnrnrn