Friday, January 01, 2010

A Historic Identity for Northeast Ohio

The article below, about Ohio Historical Society's further reduction in hours, mentions a big collection redevelopment project taking place. The morning Plain Dealer today has a big article that continues the call for more regionalism. The question that comes to my mind, prompted by a stimulating discussion last night on this subject, is what does it mean to be a resident of Ohio and/or Northeast Ohio? What is our identity, as opposed to someone from Indiana or Florida?

When several NE Ohio libraries formed our Ohio's Heritage Northeast site several years ago, it was partially to support the greater call for regionalism with some collaborations around the history of Northeast Ohio. But what is "northeast Ohio" geographically and what historical character, what unique identity do we who live here have? Ultimately we decided that the boundaries would be those of the Western Reserve and the next original land survey tract below us, the U.S. Congress Lands N.E., the boundaries of which would be East Liverpool west to a point SW of Mansfield, then north to the west side of Sandusky. This corresponds reasonably well with most definitions of NE Ohio by economic development and environmental sustainability folks and it has the historical virtue of including the Point of Beginning for all the federal surveys under the Land Ordinance of 1785 and has as part of its southern boundary the Greenville Treaty Line.

But that does little to say what it means, historically, to be a resident of NE Ohio. Do we have any defining character or identity? And for that matter, what does it mean, historically, to be an Ohioan? What is the sound-bite, bumper-sticker message we want to send out to the world to tell them something about ourselves? Once upon a time we tried "The Best Location in the Nation," and "Cleveland Is A Plum," and now we're hawking "Cleveland Plus," but these slogans are artificial and don't mean anything that's unique about our area. Plums? Maybe there is nothing unique about our story and living here has no particular thing to say to the world, but I wonder. Any ideas?

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At 8:38 AM, Blogger Christine Borne said...

I don't think the average Joe knows or cares anymore what the Western Reserve was, or why it's different up here than in the rest of Ohio. That's not to say he shouldn't care. In fact, he probably inherently knows there's a difference, without quite knowing what it is ... chances are, he feels more in common with Pittsburgh and Buffalo and Detroit than with Chillicothe or Greenville or maybe even Columbus.

Personally, Ohio doesn't figure into my identity at all. If anything, I think of myself as being from Cleveland, the Rust Belt, or the Great Lakes. The rest of Ohio is like a foreign place to me -- I didn't even really know it existed until I was about 18.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Bill Barrow said...

Oh, I agree with you completely, Christine. Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo are far more interesting and relevant to me than Columbus or Cincinnati. Average Joe doesn't have to know anything about the historic Western Reserve, per se, but he might recognize a cultural kinship with Youngstown and Akron and Mansfield that we should be able to articulate as an identity or NE Ohio subculture for the Western Reserve + the U.S. Congress Lands NE. Distinguishing NE Ohio from the rest of the state (Toledo excepted) isn't as hard as distinguishing us from this Detroit-Pittsburgh heritage (we never had their French settlements).


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