“Heart-land” was first coined in 1904 by Sir Halford Mackinder to describe the north-central part of the Eurasian continent. By the 1950’s the term, “Heartland” was embraced in the U.S. to describe the central states of the U.S. although the geographic boundaries are vaguely defined. While it can be used to describe a place, its meaning is also paired with specific mythic values, extolling agrarian life, economic self-sufficiency, pragmatism, and authenticity - a nostalgic place where “real” Americans live.
The material reality of this region offers a stark contrast as the Heartland is also the site of depopulation, xenophobia, and economic dependence on taxpayer subsidies. Politically, the Heartland myth offers a feracious haven for right-wing extremism and reactionary political ideals.
“Fertile Ground” is the working title of a series examining this persistent American myth and reconsidering a sense of place in rural flyover country.
Greg Boozell is a photographer and filmmaker based in East Central Illinois.