Title

The Perceptual Northwest

Department

Geography & Anthropology

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2008

Abstract

Our goal is to survey cultural perceptions defining the U.S. Northwest region. As geographers, we should concern ourselves with mental constructs of regions, as they can easily impede or facilitate communication. Assumptions of others’ regional boundaries and images may be erroneous. Over the past several decades, a handful of geographers have begun to examine these perceptual (or vernacular) maps and regions. Students at 21 colleges and universities were asked to identify: (1) boundaries of the U.S. Northwest region; (2) Northwest regional characteristics and symbols; and (3) what cities or other places best represent the Northwest.

Nationally, student respondents largely followed the “official” area of the region regarding state boundaries, with Washington, Oregon, and Idaho as the core area. Student perception of characteristic cities and places followed this pattern, with referenced population centers spread across the threestate landscape. Regarding descriptive words and symbols, more emphasis is placed on Garreau’s coastal perception of the Northwest through terms such as rainy, trees, and mountainous. Regional differences showed up in perception of area, descriptive words, and symbols of the Northwest. Proximity led to different perceptions. Northwest students showed the smallest perception of the Northwest in geographic area, while those farthest away (Southeast students) mapped the largest Northwest. Difference from the home region also led to different perceptions. Students from less-forested regions emphasized trees more than students from more forested regions, who emphasized open and vast characteristics of the Northwest.