In Making the Heartland Quilt, Douglas K. Meyer reconstructs the settlement patterns of thirty-three immigrant groups and confirms the emergence of discrete culture regions and regional way stations. Meyer argues that midcontinental Illinois symbolizes a historic test strip of the diverse population origins that unfolded during the Great Migration. Basing his research on the 1850 U.S. manuscript schedules, Meyer dissects the geographical configurations of twenty-three native and ten foreign-born adult male immigrant groups who peopled Illinois. His historical geographical approach leads to the comprehension of a new and clearer map of settlement and migration history in the state.
Meyer finds that both cohesive and mixed immigrant settlements were established. Balkan-like immigrant enclaves or islands were interwoven into evolving local, regional, and national settlement networks. The midcontinental location of Illinois, its water and land linkages, and its lengthy north-south axis enhanced cultural diversity. The barrier effect of Lake Michigan contributed to the convergence and mixing of immigrants. Thus, Meyer demonstrates, Illinois epitomizes midwestern dichotomies: northern versus southern; native-born versus foreign-born; rural versus urban; and agricultural versus manufacturing.