About "The Country and the City: Common Ground in the Prairie State?"

Contrasts between rural and urban perspectives on society have manifested themselves prominently in the news in recent years, but they are hardly new. Aesop’s famous fable, “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” indicates that such contrasts were on the minds of Ancient Greeks two and a half millennia ago. Rural-urban dynamics formed a significant part of the culture of the Mississippian people who occupied much of present-day Illinois 700 to 1,200 years ago, and they have influenced seemingly every aspect of public life here in the Prairie State throughout its 202-year history.

Our social and political discourse appears to reflect deep divisions and oppositional relations between urban and rural Illinoisans, yet those who are familiar with both city neighborhoods and rural communities across the state sometimes comment that their residents’ needs, concerns, and values may be more similar than they initially seem. To what extent can rural and urban Illinoisans find common ground on issues that affect both the country and the city? That is the question examined by The Country and the City: Common Ground in the Prairie State?.

Developed in 2018 in conjunction with both the Illinois State Bicentennial and the Illinois tour of a Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution entitled Crossroads: Change in Rural America, this program series addresses issues significant to both urban and rural communities, drawing upon a wide variety of humanities methods and content.

About “People, Places, and Power”

Questions such as these have been on the minds of many Americans and Illinoisans lately:

  • In light of growing disparities in population density across the United States and divergences between the popular and electoral votes in national elections, should the Electoral College be maintained, modified, or eliminated?
  • What is the fairest method of drawing the boundaries of congressional districts?
  • What is the fairest way to distribute Illinois’s tax burden and public expenditures between the seven-county area served by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which encompasses two thirds of Illinois’s population, and the remaining 95 counties, which span 380 miles from north to south and 210 miles from east to west?
  • What approaches to policymaking are most likely to yield results that satisfactorily balance or integrate the needs, priorities, and values of urban Illinoisans with those of rural Illinoisans?

What do these vexed questions have in common? All somehow involve the relationship between population distribution and the allocation of political power and public resources. Issues arising from that complicated relationship are both perennial and timely, recurring in one form or another throughout the histories of our state and our nation and showing no signs of diminishing.

In the late summer and fall of 2020, we’ll explore such issues in three The Country and the City video programs entitled “People, Places, and Power.” Each one will feature a location within Illinois where questions involving the relationship between population distribution and the distribution of resources and power are especially relevant.

Upcoming Events

About “Distributions: People, Places, and Power – Gallatin County edition,” Thursday, August 20, 7 PM, via YouTube:

Gallatin is one of the fifteen Illinois counties that already existed when Illinois became a state in 1818. Two Gallatin County communities – Shawneetown, then a bustling Ohio River port, and Equality, site of a salt spring vital to the young state’s economy – were among the most important towns in Illinois during at least the first two decades of its statehood. They eventually were eclipsed, however, by cities such as Springfield and Chicago. Today, Gallatin County ranks 101st of 102 Illinois counties by population density and can seem distant, literally and figuratively, from the places with the largest concentrations of political influence and public resources in the state. Its evolution illustrates the dramatic changes in population distribution that have occurred over the state’s history, as well as the resulting changes in the geographic distribution of power.

The Gallatin County edition of “Distributions: People, Places, and Power,” produced by Illinois Humanities in cooperation with the Gallatin County Historical Society, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and the Ohio River Scenic Byway Visitors Center in Equality, will stream on the Illinois Humanities YouTube channel on Thursday, August 20, at 7 PM. Viewers will be invited to offer comments and questions for discussion in the “chat” column. After its initial streaming, the video will be available for viewing at any time.

  • Local historians Christy Short, Joe Patrick, and Todd Carr will explain Gallatin County’s significance within the history of Illinois.
  • John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, will moderate a panel discussion about rural-urban dynamics in Illinois politics, past and present, and their role in many rural southern Illinois counites’ shift from predominantly Democratic to predominantly Republican in recent decades. Panelists will include Rhonda Belford, Hardin County Republican Central Committee chairperson and a deputy state central committeewoman for the 15th Congressional District; Dale Fowler, state senator representing Illinois’s 59th District and a former mayor of Harrisburg; Ameya Pawar, a former Chicago alderman, former candidate for governor, statewide civic leader, and public policy expert; Glenn Poshard, a former U.S. Representative from southern Illinois, former candidate for governor, and president emeritus of the Southern Illinois University system; and Sheila Simon, a former lieutenant governor, former member of the Carbondale City Council, and assistant professor of law at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
  • Members of Southeastern Illinois College’s award-winning Model Illinois Government team will debate the advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College from the perspectives of rural Illinoisans.
  • Travis DeNeal, editor of The Harrisburg Register and contributor to The Gallatin Democrat, and Molly Parker, investigative and general-assignment reporter with The Southern Illinoisan, will discuss local and regional issues on which they have reported that involve the relationship between population distribution and the distribution of power and resources.
  • Videography by Bruce Baldwin, photography by Christy Short and Gary DeNeal, and music performed by Chris Vallillo will highlight both the natural beauty and the cultural richness of Gallatin County.

Past Events

Cultural Sustainability and the Pursuit of Community IFree Press Coffee House – Tuesday, September 18, 2018, Pittsfield, IL 

“Cultural Sustainability and the Pursuit of Community II” – SIUE East Saint Louis Center – Thursday, October 25, 2018, East St Louis, IL 

“Land Use and Environmental Ethics I” – Illinois State Museum-Dickson Mounds – Thursday, November 15, 2018, Lewistown, IL 

Land Use and Environmental Ethics II – American Indian Center – Thursday, December 6, 2018, Chicago, IL 

“Local Law Enforcement & Community Relations” – AARC at Booker Washington Community Center – Tuesday, February 19, 2019, Rockford, IL

“Media Coverage of Urban and Rural Communities & Sustaining Positive Momentum” – Shilling Environmental Education Center at Scovill Zoo – Tuesday, April 30, 2019, Decatur, IL

“Social and Economic Impacts of Incarceration” – York Township Public Library – Thursday, May 9th, 2019, Thomson, IL 

“The Changing Local Media Landscapes of Rural and Urban Communities” – Du Quoin State Fairgrounds  – Thursday, May 30th, 2019, Du Quoin, IL

“The Country and the City: Christine Brewer and Noam Pikelny in Performance”Old State Capitol – Friday, August 9, Springfield, IL

View the conversations here.