The New England region of the United States is located in the upper northeastern corner of the country. Boston is its cultural center, and the region includes the following states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New England is perhaps the best-defined region of the U.S., with more uniformity and more of a shared heritage than other regions of the country. Together, the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions are generally referred to as the Northeastern region of the United States.
The earliest European settlers of New England were English Protestants who came in search of religious liberty. They gave the region its distinctive political format — town meetings (an outgrowth of meetings held by church elders) in which citizens gathered to discuss issues of the day. Town meetings still function in many New England communities today and have been revived as a form of dialogue in the national political arena.
New England has often played a leading role in American history. From the late 18th century to the mid to late 19th century, New England and its colleges were the nation's religious and intellectual center, and the region was a commercial trading powerhouse. During this time, it was a dynamic and productive region, and the city of Boston competed well against New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. New England, like the Mid-Atlantic and the South, grew rich on agriculture, commerce, trade and general progress. Relatively unscathed by the Civil War, the region continued to prosper into the 20th century.
Education is one of the region's strongest legacies. The cluster of top-ranking universities and colleges in New England—including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Brown, Dartmouth, Wellesley, Smith, Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan—is unequaled by any other region. America's first college, Harvard, was founded at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636. Relatively speaking, the region lacked natural resources except for "ice, rocks, and fish," but a number of the graduates from these schools ended up settling in the region after school, providing the area with a well-educated populace and its most valuable resource. True to their enterprising nature, New Englanders have used their brains to make up the gap. For instance, in the 19th century, they made money off their frozen pond water, by shipping ice in fast clipper ships to tropical locations before refrigeration was invented.
New England is also important for the cultural contribution it has made to the nation. As the oldest of the American regions, this area developed its own distinctive cuisine, dialect, architecture and government. Despite a changing population, much of the original spirit of New England remains. As a whole, the area of New England tends to be progressive in its politics, albeit restrained in its personal mores. Due to the fact that so many recent European immigrants live in the region and due to the influence of the many universities, the region often shows a greater receptivity to European ideas and culture in relation to the rest of the country.
In the 20th century, most of New England's traditional industries have relocated to states or foreign countries where goods can be made more cheaply. In more than a few factory towns, skilled workers have been left without jobs. The gap has been partly filled by the microelectronics, computer and biotechnology industries, fed by those same educational institutions.
New England has always received a great deal of attention from American writers - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen King (all born in New England), and contemporary playwrights like Arthur Miller (who brought colonial New England back to the future in his McCarthyism allegory The Crucible) all wrote in or about New England.