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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Middle Ground: The Geographic and Linguistic Identity of the American Midwest

2nd October 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Molly Becker

The Midwest is often seen as the heartland of America - and writers played a large part in constructing this sense of its significance. Molly Becker will map the regional and geographic identities of American fiction in this Late Summer Lecture. Free and open to all, from students and schools to members of the public.

About this Public Lecture

In 1930, Sinclair Lewis became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for writing ‘the new language—American—as one of the representatives of a hundred and twenty million souls.’Capping a period of abundant Midwestern literary production and linguistic experimentation in the first decades of the twentieth century, Lewis’ win both cemented the relationship between American identity and American language and established the small-town, Midwestern American culturehis novels depicted as nationally representative.

Yet in order to create this distinctly Midwestern feel, Lewis resorted to setting most of his major novels in a fictional state, Winnemac, which he intended to be more Midwestern than any of the existing Midwestern states. Lewis’ conceptualization of the quintessential ‘Midwest’ as a place existing outside traditional borders is one that reflects the general perception of the region. Geographically and linguistically,the Midwest has proven itself difficult to define. In lieu of clear boundaries, definitions of the Midwest and of its dialect often make use of more concretely defined regions to decide what the Midwest is not, instead of what it actually is—in other words, the Midwest starts where New England, the South, and the West end.

The terms used to describe the Midwest today, such as ‘the Heartland’ and the seat of ‘General American’ English, however, demonstrate that the characterization of the region as central to American culture, established in part by popular Midwestern authors, has persisted despite the region’s geographic and linguistic uncertainty. Using Lewis’ fictional Midwestern state as a starting point, this lecture will analyze the novels and short stories of early twentieth century Midwestern writers to examine the relationship between geography, identity, and language in the American Midwest during a period when Midwestern authors were establishing both regional and national identities.

About Molly Becker

Molly Becker is asecond year PhD studentin American Literature at the University of Cambridge. She received a BAin English Literature, Linguistics, and Geography from the University of Chicagoin 2017, and went on to receive an MPhil in American Literature at Cambridge the following year. Her MPhil dissertation focused on Indiana author Booth Tarkington, and her current PhD research examines the relationship between the rural Midwest, language, and American culture and identity in the early twentieth century.


Is the lecture suitable for me?

Late Summer Lectures is designed to be open to a wide audience, from university or sixth-form students to members of the public. It aims to convey the latest postgraduate and early career research, so lectures will be rooted in academic ideas and principles; however, lecturers should present these in a clear way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards or to chat further over refreshments. You can get a sense of what to expect by listening to some of our previous lectures (although most live lectures will also be accompanied by visuals which can help to convey ideas).

Is the venue and lecture accessible?

The Ritson Hall in Alington House is located at the end of a corridor, wide enough for wheelchair access. A lift is available at the end. The organisers or Alington House reception staff will be available to assist. Unfortunately we are not able to provide sign language interpreters for each lecture. If there are any ways in which we could help you to attend the event please contact the organisers at

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Please visit the Alington House website for full details.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

If the event reaches its limit, priority will be given to those who have reserved a ticket in advance via Eventbrite. We advise that you bring a copy on your phone just in case.

Contact for more information about this event.

Related Links


Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


Many of our public lectures, seminars and conferences are recorded, and can be listened to as podcasts.

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