The 38 States of America: Geography Professor Creates a Bold Modern Map of America (1973)

Unless you belong to an older generation, you probably can't remember the last time the map of the United States underwent any major change. For decades, the boundaries have remained pretty fixed. And yet the map, as we know it, shouldn't necessarily be considered set in stone.

If billionaire Tim Draper has his way, California voters will decide in 2018 whether California, the home to nearly 40 million people, should be divided into three states called "Northern California," "Southern California," and plain "California." His argument being that California has become too large to govern, and that power should be moved toward smaller, more locally governed entities. Meanwhile, on a parallel track, another group is pushing for California to leave the union altogether. Right there, we have two initiatives that could change the map as we know it.




And then there was the time when, back in 1973, George Etzel Pearcy, a California State University geography professor, proposed re-drawing the map of the nation, reducing the number of states to 38, and giving each state a different name. In his creative reworking of things, California would be split into two states--"El Dorado" and "San Gabriel". Texas would divide into "Alamo" and also "Shawnee" (along with remnants of Oklahoma). And the Dakotas would fuse into one big "Dakota." In case you're wondering, Pearcy chose the names by polling geography students.

The logic behind the new map was explained in a 1975 edition of The People's Almanac.

Why the need for a new map? Pearcy states that many of the early surveys that drew up our boundaries were done while the areas were scarcely populated. Thus, it was convenient to determine boundaries by using the land's physical features, such as rivers and mountain ranges, or by using a simple system of latitude and longitude.... The practicality of old established State lines is questionable in light of America's ever-growing cities and the increasing mobility of its citizens. Metropolitan New York, for example, stretches into 2 adjacent States. Other city populations which cross State lines are Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City. The "straddling" of State lines causes economic and political problems. Who should pay for a rapid transit system in St. Louis? Only those citizens within the boundaries of Missouri, or all residents of St. Louis's metropolitan area, including those who reach over into the State of Illinois?...

When Pearcy realigned the U.S., he gave high priority to population density, location of cities, lines of transportation, land relief, and size and shape of individual States.  Whenever possible lines are located in less populated areas. In the West, the desert, semidesert, or mountainous areas provided an easy method for division. In the East, however, where areas of scarce population are harder to determine, Pearcy drew lines "trying to avoid the thicker clusters of settlement."  Each major city which fell into the "straddling" category is neatly tucked within the boundaries of a new State. Pearcy tried to place a major metropolitan area in the center of each State. St. Louis is in the center of the State of Osage, Chicago is centered in the State of Dearborn. When this method proved impossible, as with coastal Los Angeles, the city is still located so as to be easily accessible from all parts of the State...

According to Rob Lammle, writing in Mental Floss, Pearcy initially got support from "economists, geographers, and even a few politicians." But the proposal--mainly outlined in a book called A 38 State U.S.A.--eventually withered in Washington, the place where ideas, both good and bad, go to die.

Below you can watch an animation showing how US map has changed in 200 years.

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The Roman Roads of Britain Visualized as a Subway Map

Walk around London with someone who knows its deep history — not hard to arrange, given the way London enthusiasts treat historical knowledge as a hypercompetitive sport — and you'll have more than a few paths of "Roman roads" pointed out to you. Even in the city of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, the Shard and the Gherkin, chicken shops and curry houses, there remain fragments and traces of the 2,000 miles of roads the Roman Army built between British towns and cities between 43 and 410 AD, Britain's centuries as a province of the Roman Empire.

Though some of Britain's Roman Roads have become modern motorways, most no longer exist in any form but those bits and pieces history buffs like to spot. This makes it difficult to get a sense of how they all ran and where — or at least it did until Sasha Trubetskoy made a Roman Roads of Britain Network Map in the graphic-design style of the subway maps you'll find in London or any other major city today. Trubetskoy, an undergraduate statistics major at the University of Chicago, first found cartographical fame a few months ago with his "subway map" of roads across the entire Roman Empire circa 125 AD.




"Popular request," he writes, demanded a Britain-specific follow up, a project he describes as "far more complicated than I had initially anticipated." The challenges included not just the sheer number of Roman Roads in Britain but a lack of clarity about their exact location and extents. As in his previous map, Trubetskoy admits, "I had to do some simplifying and make some tough choices on which cities to include." While this closer-up view demanded a more geographical faithfulness, he nevertheless "had to get rather creative with the historical evidence" in places, to the point of using such "not exactly Latin-sounding" names as “Watling Street” and “Ermin Way.”

Still, barring a revolutionary discovery in Roman history, you're unlikely to find a more rigorous example of subway-mapped Roman Roads in Britain than this one. And for $9 USD you can have it as a "crisp PDF" suitable for printing as a poster and giving to anyone passionate about the history of Britain — or the history of Rome, or graphic design, or maps that aren't what they might seem at first glance.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Colorful Map Visualizes the Lexical Distances Between Europe’s Languages: 54 Languages Spoken by 670 Million People

Stephen F. Steinbach, a resident of Vienna and a “cartography, language and travel enthusiast, with an engineering background,” is not a linguist. Steinbach, who runs the site Alternative Transport, seems much more interested in mapping and transportation than morphology and etymology. But he has made a contribution to a linguistic concept called “lexical difference” with the map you see above, a colorful 2015 visualization of European languages, grouped together in clusters according to their subfamilies (Italic-Romance, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, etc.—see a much larger version here).

Straight and arcing lines span the relative distance these languages have presumably traveled from each other. Solid lines between languages represent a very close proximity, dashed lines of different thicknesses show more distance, and thin dotted lines traverse the greatest expanses.

Hungarian and Ukrainian, for example, have a lexical distance score of 90, where Polish and Ukrainian, both Slavic languages, are only 30 degrees from each other. “The map shows the language families that cover the continent,” writes Big Think, “large, familiar ones like Germanic, Italic-Romance and Slavic, smaller ones like Celtic, Baltic and Uralic; outliers like Semitic and Turkic; and isolates—orphan languages, without a family: Albanian and Greek.”  (Technically, modern Greek does have a family—Hellenic—though it is the only surviving member.)

As we might expect from this subset of the durable Indo-European schema, the languages within each clustered group occupy the shortest distance from each other, with some exceptions. Romanian, for example, is slightly closer to Albanian than it is to French, its Romance cousin. The Slavic languages Russian and Polish seem to have traveled a bit further apart than Polish has from the Baltic language of Lithuanian. What does this mean, exactly? According to the measure of “lexical distance” proposed by Ukrainian linguist Konstantin Tishchenko, it means that closer languages might be more mutually intelligible, at least from a lexical standpoint, since they may share more cognates (similar-sounding and meaning words) and borrowings.

Gaston Ümlaut, the handle of a linguist on the Stack Exchange Linguistics beta, cautions that the concept of “lexical distance” may be “pretty useless” given that the comparisons also include false cognates—words that sound or look similar but have no relationship to each other. These could account for some seeming inconsistencies. (Ümlaut admits he has not read the original article, written in Russian. If you are able, you can find it online in the book Metatheory of Linguistics, here.) Steinbach has responded in the same thread.

The idea received a much more trenchant critique more recently. Steinbach clarified that the theory, and the map, only compare written words and not syntax or speech. “It has nothing to do with grammar, syntax, rhythm or other important features that are important for intelligibility,” he writes. “It also compares a small list of words and not the entire vocabulary of one language to another.” This explanation does cast doubt on whether “lexical distance” is a meaningful concept. I’ll leave it to the linguists to decide. (Steinbach reached out to Tischchenko but has yet to receive a reply.)

Tischchenko’s original “lexical distance” map, further up, drawn in 1997, gets the idea across with minimal fuss, but it leaves much to be desired graphically. (A large, hand-drawn color version improves upon the printed map.) Steinbach took his version from a 2008 English-language adaptation made by Teresa Elms in 2008 (above). In his blog post here, he explains all of the changes he made to Elms and Tischchenko’s designs. These include adjusting the size of the “bubbles” to proportionally represent the number of speakers of each language. Steinbach also added several languages, as well as “gravestones” for the dead Anatolian and Tocharian branches. In all, his map shows “54 languages, representing 670 million people.” He adds, vaguely, that “it checks out.”

 

After posting his Lexical Distance Map, Steinbach proposed a “3D” version, with the added dimension of time. (See his preliminary sketch above.) The maps are intriguing, the theory of “lexical distance” an interesting one, but we should bear in mind, as Steinbach writes, that he is “no linguist,” and that this idea is hardly an orthodox one within the discipline.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Artistic Maps of Pakistan & India Show the Embroidery Techniques of Their Different Regions

Journalist Saima Mir posted to Twitter this "map of Pakistan showing the embroidery techniques of its regions." And, sure enough, it led to someone surfacing a corresponding map of Pakistan's neighbor, India. The underlying message of the maps? It's to show, as @AlmostLived noted, "how diverse elements come together to make beautiful things." The map above was originally produced by Generation, a Pakistani fashion company. We're not clear on the origin of the India map, unfortunately.

via Boing Boing

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All the Rivers & Streams in the U.S. Shown in Rainbow Colours: A Data Visualization to Behold

This is a sight for sore eyes. Created by Hungarian geographer and map-designer Robert Szucs, using open-source QGIS software, the high resolution map above shows:

all the permanent and temporary streams and rivers of the contiguous 48 states in beautiful rainbow colours, divided into catchment areas. It shows Strahler Stream Order Classification. The higher the stream order, the thicker the line.

When you look at the map, you'll see, as The Washington Post observes, "Every river in a color drains to the same river, which then drains into the ocean. The giant basin in the middle of the country is the Mississippi River basin. Major rivers like the Ohio and the Missouri drain into the behemoth." Pretty impressive.




The map was apparently made using data from the European Environment Agency and the Rivers Network System.

You can find the map on Imgur, or purchase "ultra high" resolution copies through Etsy for $8.

Szucs has als0 produced data visualizations of the river systems in China, India, Europe and other parts of the world.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Ancient Rome’s System of Roads Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps

Sasha Trubetskoy, an undergrad at U. Chicago, has created a "subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD." Drawing on Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary, Trubetskoy's map combines well-known historic roads, like the Via Appia, with lesser-known ones (in somes cases given imagined names). If you want to get a sense of scale, it would take, Trubetskoy tells us, "two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month."

You can view the map in a larger format here. And if you follow this link and send Trubetskoy a few bucks, he promises to email you a crisp PDF for printing. Enjoy.

via coudal

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Animated GIFs Show How Subway Maps of Berlin, New York, Tokyo & London Compare to the Real Geography of Those Great Cities

You can't make a perfectly accurate map, as Jorge Luis Borges so succinctly told us, without making it the exact same size and shape as the land it portrays. But given the utter uselessness of such an enormous piece of paper (which so frustrated the citizens of the imaginary empire in Borges' story that, "not without some pitilessness," they tossed theirs into the desert), no mapmaker would ever want to. A more compact map is a more useful one; unfortunately, a more compact map is also, by its very nature, a less accurate one.

New York

The same rule applies to maps of all kinds, and especially to transit maps, quite possibly the most useful specialized maps we consult today. They show us how to navigate cities, and yet their clean, bold lines, sometimes turning but never wavering, hardly represent those cities — subject as they are to variations in terrain and density, as well as centuries of unplannably organic growth — with geographical faithfulness. One can't help but wonder just how each urban transit map, some of them beloved works of design, strikes the usefulness-faithfulness balance.

London

Living in Seoul, I've grown used to the city's standard subway map. I thus get a kick out of scrutinizing the more geographically accurate one, which overlays the train lines onto an existing map of the city, posted on some station platforms. It reveals the truth that some lines are shorter than they look on the standard map, some are much longer, and none cut quite as clean a path through the city as they seem to. At Twisted Sifter you'll find a GIF gallery of 15 standard subway maps that morph into more geographically faithful equivalents, a vivid demonstration of just how much transit map designers need to twist, squeeze, and simplify an urban landscape to produce something legible at a glance.

Tokyo

All of those animations, just five of which you see in this post, come from the subreddit Data Is Beautiful, a realm populated by enthusiasts of the visual display of quantitative information — enthusiasts so enthusiastic that many of them create innovative data visualizations like these by themselves. According to their creations, subway maps, like that of New York City's venerable system, do relatively little to distort the city; others, like Tokyo's, look nearly unrecognizable when made to conform to geography.

Austin

Even the maps of new and incomplete transit networks do a number on the real shape and direction of their paths: the map of Austin, Texas' Capital MetroRail, for instance, straightens a somewhat zig-zaggy northeast-southwest track into a single horizontal line. It may take a few generations before Austin's "system" develops into one extensive and complex enough to inspire one of the great transit maps (the ranks, for example, of "The Wonderground Map of London Town"). But I wouldn't count out the possibility: the more fully cities realize their public-transit potential, the more opportunity opens up for the advancement of the subway mapmaker's art.

See all 15 of the subway GIFs at Twisted Sifter.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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