New England roundup #20

Counting paper ballots in Cornwall, VT, in 2004 (cc photo by origamidon)
Counting paper ballots in Cornwall, VT, in 2004 (cc photo by origamidon)
  • With the 2010 elections in the books, the AP declares, “The GOP resurgence sputters in most of New England.” But Jay Newton-Small, of Time, equivocates in a piece titled “The Rebirth of the New England GOP (Or Something Approximating It),” and the Globe argues that the victories Republicans did secure “reflect a resurgence of the uniquely New England stripe of moderate Republicanism that has receded in recent years as the national party has become increasingly conservative on social issues.” All three analyses note that Republican gains were not all that the party had hoped for. Over at the Providence Journal, John E. Mulligan observes that the elections tilted the balance of power in the U.S. House delegation from the Northeast (New England, plus New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) from a 68-15 Democratic advantage to a 55-28 split. And if you missed it, I explored some historical context for the election results in New England earlier this week.
  • The region’s largest wind power project, on Kibby Mountain in Maine, near the Canadian border, is complete. But the future of alternative energy and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is in some doubt with Maine’s election of Paul LaPage—a climate change skeptic and wind power opponent—to replace outgoing governor John Baldacci.
  • Panera Bread Co. is expanding its presence in the New England states, and echoing comments last summer by Papa Gino’s CEO about the region’s unique pizza culture, Panera’s executive chairman declares, “The New England consumer gets Panera. The New England consumer appreciates Panera.” (I’m not exactly sure what there is to “get”—I guess I don’t!)

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

Graphing the Democrats’ rise in New England

One of the things that first spurred me to think seriously about New England’s complex regional history in the twentieth century, and its evolving place within the larger nation, was the Congressional election of 2008, when the Democratic Party swept the last Republican from the six states’ U.S. House seats. The moment seemed to symbolize New England’s status as a liberal outlier, even within a very strong year for Democrats nationwide. Obviously, partisan control of House seats is a crude metric: it obscures more-complex realities in voting patterns for other elected offices, it fails to distinguish between party and ideology, and it doesn’t capture intra-regional diversity very well. Still, the 2008 results—along with other indicators, including the rapid advance of state recognition of same-sex relationships and surveys showing atypically low levels of religious adherence—bespoke a New England that stood apart from the national mainstream.

What intrigued me is when and how this “liberal New England” had come to be, especially given the historical image, and to some significant degree the reality, of flinty Yankee conservatism. Then, in the wake of Tuesday’s election results, which included Republican victories in both New Hampshire U.S. House races, I wondered whether New England was, even by this crude metric, actually all that exceptional any more. So, as a way to start answering these questions, I decided to throw together a quick graph of the historical data on Democrats’ share of New England’s House seats to see what sort of light it could shed.  Here it is:

Graph: Democratic Party Share of U.S. House Seats

After the jump, some amateur, first-impression political science. Continue reading “Graphing the Democrats’ rise in New England”

New England roundup #19

1890 John Singer Sargent painting of Henry Cabot Lodge (cc photo by cliff1066)
1890 John Singer Sargent painting of Henry Cabot Lodge (cc photo by cliff1066)

Some miscellany from the past few weeks:

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

New England roundup #18

Sticker in Brattleboro train station advertising Amtrak's Vermonter service
Sticker in Brattleboro train station advertising Amtrak's Vermonter service

This week’s roundup comes to you from beautiful Newfane, Vermont.

  • The Courant examines the economic impact of same-sex marriage in Connecticut. One argument: the state is better positioned to draw out-of-state couples than others in New England, due to Connecticut’s centrality and the lack of a waiting period for marriage licenses.
  • When I started this feature, I didn’t really expect that the fishing industry would feature so prominently in it. At any rate, here’s an interesting write-up of a panel at a recent chef’s conference in Boston on the tensions between “local” and “sustainable” in New England’s fisheries.
  • The Maine Historical Society hosted a talk this week by Colby’s David M. Freidenreich on Maine’s Jewish history. The talk announcement points to Documenting Maine Jewry, described as “a collaborative genealogy and history of Maine’s Jewish communities,” which features dozens of photographs and oral histories.

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

New England roundup #17

UConn football players of yesteryear (Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, UConn Athletic Game Films collection)
UConn football players of yesteryear (Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, UConn Athletic Game Films collection)

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

New England roundup #16

Screengrab from 1974 WGBH report on anti-busing rally in Boston (click image to link to video).
Screengrab from 1974 WGBH report on anti-busing rally in Boston (click image to link to video).

After an irritatingly persistent illness, I’m getting back into action:

New England roundup #15

Entry for John Adams's Koran, from 1917 "Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston" (click for full text)
Entry for John Adams's Koran, from 1917 "Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston" (click for full text)

Apologies for the delay:

  • In the Globe, Ted Widmer examines Islam in early America. He begins with John Adams’s Koran: “Despite its foreign air, Adams’s Koran had a strong New England pedigree. The first Koran published in the United States, it was printed in Springfield in 1806.”
  • New England’s public colleges and universities have long existed in the shadow of its private institutions; budget cuts at the University of Massachusetts, Tracy Jan reports, have left it at a further disadvantage, compared to the region’s other state universities, when it comes to attracting the state’s top students. If you put any stock in the latest U.S. News rankings, New England’s state universities fall out in this order: UConn, UVM, UMass, UNH, UMaine, URI.
  • Meanwhile, a new report in The New England Journal of Higher Education asserts that two thirds of the jobs created in the region over the next eight years will require a post-secondary degree. In 2018, the study’s authors write, 68 percent of jobs in Massachusetts will require such a degree, the highest percentage in New England; in Maine, the figure will only be 59 percent. Local coverage from Maine here, and Rhode Island here.
  • Sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, who helped to popularize the idea of New England as “Red Sox Nation,” declares Patriots quarterback Tom Brady New England’s “Brady Gaga” due to the obsessive attention he wins from “regional media.” Shaughnessy own employer, of course, eagerly feeds the frenzy. But I somehow doubt this coinage will catch on.
  • A warm spring means apple picking begins early this fall.

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

New England roundup #14

  • Flyer advertising 1923 Labor Day rail excursion to Peaks Island, ME (Broadside Collection, Maine Historical Society, click for details)
    Flyer advertising 1923 Labor Day rail excursion to Peaks Island, ME (Broadside Collection, Maine Historical Society, click for details)

    Happy Labor Day! The Maine Historical Society—which, John Quincy Adams’ tweets notwithstanding, outdoes its New England peers in its embrace of social media—calls attention to a 1923 Labor Day celebration documented in its digital archives: a rail-and-ferry excursion to Peaks Island, with “attractions for everyone,” ranging from “base ball” to a trapeze act.

  • Out next month: Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston, an account of the city’s nineteenth-century urbanization taking an environmental history perspective, by Brooklyn College’s Michael Rawson.
  • In an interview, Clyde W. Barrow, of UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis and its New England Gaming Research Project, forecasts that expanded gaming in New Hampshire, Maine, and especially Massachusetts would result in declines in patronage and revenues at Connecticut’s casinos and Rhode Island’s “racinos.” Nevertheless, Barrow is bullish on “one of New England’s largest growth industries.” (Although the UMass center is fully state-funded, the same does not seem to be the case for the first-ever New England Gaming Summit, scheduled for September 20-21 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.)
  • Meanwhile, New England’s biggest industry—tourism—was buoyed this summer by “perfect weather,” the Associated Press reports, citing state tourism officials, highway tolls, hotel occupancy rates, and other barometers. But tourist traffic isn’t necessarily translating into greater spending.
  • It can only help, though, that Earl spared Cape Cod, and the rest of New England.

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

New England roundup #13

Friendly's Restaurant & Ice Cream, Unionville, CT (image via Wikipedia)
Friendly's Restaurant & Ice Cream, Unionville, CT (image via Wikipedia)

Not much happening this week—must be those last, lazy days of summer:

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

When country music, regional resentment, and gender politics collide

While hunting around YouTube for the best version of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers’ “New England,” I came across another remarkable text: the music video for Reba McEntire’s 1986 song “Whoever’s in New England.” Written by Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers, the song was a #1 hit on Billboard’s country charts and inspired McEntire’s first music video; the album of which it was a part was McEntire’s tenth, but her first to go to #1.

I’m not being ironic in using the adjective “remarkable” to describe the song and accompanying video. Both present a wife’s lament about suspicious business trips “up North” to Massachusetts taken by her husband, “an executive on his way up.” The video alternates between scenes of a lonely McEntire in her home and driving her husband to the airport and (imagined?) images of her husband dining and frolicking in the snow with a Boston businesswoman. “You know its not too late, ’cause you’ll always have a place to go / When whoever’s in New England’s through with you,” the singer declares in the song’s conclusion. In the video, her husband realizes the error of his ways, abandons his flight at the airport, and returns to McEntire’s arms.

The song seems to me to encapsulate a strain of the South’s late-twentieth-century resentment and feelings of inferiority toward “elites” from New England—and especially, and explicitly, Massachusetts—even amid the South’s own simultaneous political, economic, and cultural ascendancy.

Wikipedia tells me that McEntire’s song is a response to Barry Manilow’s 1976 recording “Weekend in New England,” a song penned by by Randy Edelman. In “Weekend,” the singer addresses a lover with whom he has spent time in New England (although it’s not clear that he is otherwise spoken for). The liaison occurs on “long rocky beaches” and the singer returns to “the city,” evoking the New England of coastal tourism, an escape from modern life.

But the lyrics and video of McEntire’s song establish a contrast, instead, between the tall buildings, executive boardrooms, fancy restaurants, and public parks of urban Boston and a suburban, implicitly Southern, home featuring both modern and country accents. New England is cold, with winters that may be “beautiful” but “can last forever.” It’s a foreign “up there,” and one needs a “place to go,” a Southern home to return to, when it inevitably abandons you.

The other woman (still from music video for Reba McEntire, "Whoever's in New England")
The other woman (still from music video for Reba McEntire, "Whoever's in New England")

Strikingly, the video also casts this contrast in terms of two models of feminine styling and comportment, aligning 1980s-era controversies over feminism with the clash of “icy” New England vs. the South. It depicts McEntire at home in her kitchen and/or at her husband’s side, clad in a sweater, denim, and a sensible perm. Compare this with the woman with whom he has an affair. She is not the secretary taking notes on his presentation; instead, she’s a businesswoman sitting among the men at the conference table. She wears glasses, a men’s-style jacket, and a tie, and her hair is pulled up severely. She, indeed, is the aggressor in their encounter: her smile cuts to his, then to hers again, after reeling him in for a dinner out. And the stained-glass window behind her, for some reason depicting the state seal, brands her and her behavior as unquestionably “Massachusetts.”

In short, watch this video. I think it could be a really useful in teaching—a compelling launching point for a discussion about the regional, cultural, and gendered dimensions of U.S. politics in the 1980s, and their many intersections.