The Minds of the West

Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917

By Jon Gjerde

442 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 tables, 3 maps, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4807-4
    Published: February 1999
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6167-7
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6835-0
    Published: November 2000

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Awards & distinctions

1997 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award in American Immigration History, Immigration History Society

1997 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award in Agricultural History, Agricultural History Society

In the century preceding World War I, the American Middle West drew thousands of migrants both from Europe and from the northeastern United States. In the American mind, the region represented a place where social differences could be muted and a distinctly American culture created. Many of the European groups, however, viewed the Midwest as an area of opportunity because it allowed them to retain cultural and religious traditions from their homelands.

Jon Gjerde examines the cultural patterns, or "minds," that those settling the Middle West carried with them. He argues that such cultural transplantation could occur because patterns of migration tended to reunite people of similar pasts and because the rural Midwest was a vast region where cultural groups could sequester themselves in tight-knit settlements built around familial and community institutions.

Gjerde compares patterns of development and acculturation across immigrant groups, exploring the frictions and fissures experienced within and between communities. Finally, he examines the means by which individual ethnic groups built themselves a representative voice, joining the political and social debate on both a regional and national level.

About the Author

Jon Gjerde, author of the award-winning From Peasants to Farmers, is professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.
For more information about Jon Gjerde, visit the Author Page.


"An excellent job of tying together demography and intellectual history to explain ethnic voting patterns on issues like woman suffrage, mandatory schooling, and temperance."The Canadian Review of American Studies

"A challenging work by a writer conversant with the latest trends in immigration history. . . . Rich in original insights."The Catholic Historical Review

"Gjerde has injected an important, well-crafted, and much needed argument into the analysis of the immigrant experience in the United States. It is, in many ways, ground-breaking."--Rural History

"This sparkling book is must reading for all students of ethnicity and immigration."--Annals of Iowa

"A powerful story of mitigating the distance between tradition and assimilation, of keeping culture and ethnicity vibrant in a social environment often changing for the better, but away from the ways of the past. The Minds of the West is tip of an intellectual iceberg that merits much greater exploration. . . . Gjerde’s book belongs on the shelf of anyone who seriously wants to understand how some immigrants became cultural Americans and why others did not. Its lens gives a more complicated, more interesting West and nation."--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"This is a book of wide sweep, of sophisticated and multilayered analysis, and of broad significance for American historical scholarship. . . . [Gjerde] has brought together themes and arguments and mixed them with his own prodigious research in primary sources to create a book that is surely among the very best studies of ethnicity we have."--Reviews in American History