New Interactive Map Visualizes the Chilling History of Lynching in the U.S. (1835-1964)

Whether we like to admit it or not, the history of the U.S. is in great degree a history of genocide and racist terror. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has demonstrated in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, the phrase “Manifest Destiny”—which we generally associate with the second half of the 19th century—accurately describes the nation’s ethos since well before its founding. The idea that the entire continent belonged by right of “Providence” to a highly specific group of European settlers is what we often hear spoken of now of as “white nationalism,” an ideology that has been as violent and bloody as certain other nationalisms, and in many ways much more so.

“Somehow,” writes Dunbar-Ortiz, “even ‘genocide’ seems an inadequate description for what happened” to the Native American nations. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this history as inseparable from the struggles of African-Americans and other groups, writing in 1963’s Why We Can’t Wait, “our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy.”

One striking commonality—or rather continuity—in the histories Dunbar-Ortiz and King tell is that a huge number of violent attacks on Native and Black people, slave and free, were carried out by ordinary settlers and citizens, unofficially deputized by the state as irregular enforcers of white supremacy. Especially in the century after the Civil War, white nationalism took the form of lynchings: brutal vigilante hangings, burnings, and mutilations meant to terrorize communities of color and enact the kind of frontier “justice” pioneered on the actual frontier. Most of the recorded victims were African-American, but “Native Americans, as well as Mexican, Chinese, and Italian workers were brutalized and murdered” as well, writes Laura Bliss at Citylab, and "although the rural South was by far the bloodiest region nationally, no area was really safe.”

Now, a new interactive map---named Monroe Work Today after the early 20th century historian (Monroe Nathan Work) who gathered much of the data---“aims to be the most comprehensive catalogue of proven lynchings that took place in the United States from 1835 to 1964.” The site calls its impressive map “a rebirth of one piece” of Monroe Work’s legacy, expanded to include many more sources and the post WWII period. “In the century after the Civil War,” write the map’s creators, “as many as 5000 people of color were executed—not by courts, but by mobs on the street who believed the cause of white supremacy.”

Lynchings became widespread in the early 1800s, “as a form of self-appointed justice in local communities... when townspeople made grave accusations first, but never bothered to gather proof.” In the postbellum U.S., such killings became more exclusively racialized in "very real crusades to change the United States to a place only for whites." Local leaders "encouraged people to carry that idea onto the streets.” As you can see in the screenshots here from particularly violent periods in history, most, but by no means all of these extrajudicial killings took place in the South against African Americans.

In other areas of density in the Southwest, “Far West,” and “Left Coast” (as the project refers to these areas) the victims tended to be Latino/a, Chinese, or Native American. In New Orleans, a deep pool of blue marks the many Sicilian victims of lynching in the late 19th century.

For a number of reasons discussed on the site, the map’s creators caution against using their tool “to decide that some places suffered ‘more racism’ than others.” Many other forms of racist violence, from intimidation to rape, redlining, criminalization, and job discrimination have been widespread around the country and are not shown on the map. In anticipation of accusations of bias, Monroe Work Today encourages users to evaluate the source for themselves. (“You should always do this with anything you read online.”) A good place to start would be their extensive bibliography. As you scroll through the site, you’ll find other questions answered as well.

Writing at The Smithsonian, Danny Lewis calls the map “an important endeavor to help mark these dark parts of American history and make it more visible and accessible for all.” But Monroe Work Today is more than a research tool. The site bears witness to a continuing story. “The threat of violence for Americans of color is alive and real,” writes Bliss, “This is a good time to revisit its history.”

via The Smithsonian

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

Enchanting Video Shows How Globes Were Made by Hand in 1955: The End of a 500-Year Tradition

The first globe--a spherical representation of our planet Earth--dates back to the Age of Discovery. Or 1492, to be more precise, when Martin Behaim and painter Georg Glockendon created the "Nürnberg Terrestrial Globe," otherwise known as the "Erdapfel." It was made by hand. And that tradition continued straight through the 20th century, until machines eventually took over.

Above, you can watch the tail end of a 500-year tradition. Somewhere in North London, in 1955, "a woman takes one of the moulds from a shelf and takes it over to a workbench. She fixes it to a device which holds it steady whilst still allowing it to spin." "Another girl," notes British Pathe, "is sticking red strips onto a larger sphere." After that, "coloured printed sections showing the map of the world are cut to shape then pasted onto the surface of the globes." Through that "skilled operation," the London-based firm produced some 60,000 globes each year.

Here, you can also watch another globe-making mini-documentary, this one in black & white, from 1949. It gives you a glimpse of a process that takes 15 hours, from start to finish.

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Buckminster Fuller’s Map of the World: The Innovation that Revolutionized Map Design (1943)

Last week we brought you news of a world map purportedly more accurate than any to date, designed by Japanese architect and artist Hajime Narukawa. The map, called the AuthaGraph, updates a centuries-old method of turning the globe into a flat surface by first converting it to a cylinder. Winner of Japan’s Good Design Grand Award, it serves as both a brilliant design solution and an update to our outmoded conceptions of world geography.

But as some readers have pointed out, the AuthaGraph also seems to draw quite heavily on an earlier map made by one of the most visionary of theorists and designers, Buckminster Fuller, who in 1943 applied his Dymaxion trademark to the map you see above, which will likely remind you of his most recognizable invention, the Geodesic Dome, “house of the future.”

Whether Narukawa has acknowledged Fuller as an inspiration I cannot say. In any case, 73 years before the AuthaGraph, the Dymaxion Map achieved a similar feat, with similar motivations. As the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) points out, “The Fuller Projection Map is [or was] the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in the ocean, without any visually obvious distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas, and without splitting any continents.”

Fuller published his map in Life magazine, as a corrective, he said, “for the layman, engrossed in belated, war-taught lessons in geography…. The Dymaxion World map is a means by which he can see the whole world fairly at once.” Fuller, notes Kelsey Campell-Dollaghan at Gizmodo, "intended the Dymaxion World map to serve as a tool for communication and collaboration between nations.”

Fuller believed, writes BFI, that "given a way to visualize the whole planet with greater accuracy, we humans will be better equipped to address challenges as we face our common future aboard Spaceship Earth.” Was he naïve or ahead of his time?

We may have had a good laugh at a recent replica of Fuller's nearly undriveable, “scary as hell,” 1930 Dymaxion Car, one of his first inventions. Many of Fuller's contemporaries also found his work bizarre and impractical. Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker sums up the reception he often received for his “schemes,” which “had the hallucinatory quality associated with science fiction (or mental hospitals).” The commentary seems unfair.

Fuller’s influence on architecture, design, and systems theory has been broad and deep, though many of his designs only resonated long after their debut. He thought of himself as an “anticipatory design scientist,” rather than an inventor, and remarked, “if you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” In this sense, we must agree that the Dymaxion map was an unqualified success as an inspiration for innovative map design.

In addition to its possibly indirect influence on the AuthaGraph, Fuller’s map has many prominent imitators and sparked “a revolution in mapping,” writes Campbell-Dollaghan. She points us to, among others, the Cryosphere, further up, a Fuller map “arranged based on ice, snow, glaciers, permafrost and ice sheets”; to Dubai-based Emirates airline’s map showing flight routes; and to the “Googlespiel,” an interactive Dymaxion map built by Rehabstudio for Google Developer Day, 2011.

And, just above, we see the Dymaxion Woodocean World map by Nicole Santucci, winner of 2013’s DYMAX REDUX, an “open call to create a new and inspiring interpretation of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map.” You'll find a handful of other unique submissions at BFI, including the runner-up, Clouds Dymaxion Map, below, by Anne-Gaelle Amiot, an “absolutely beautiful hand-drawn depiction of a reality that is almost always edited from our maps: cloud patterns circling above Earth.”

via Gizmodo

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

Japanese Designers May Have Created the Most Accurate Map of Our World: See the AuthaGraph

“The world is not an illusion,” said Alfred Korzbyski, "it is an abstraction." You may know Korzbyski for another famous maxim, “the map is not the territory.” Jorge Luis Borges took this idea to its most absurd lengths by imagining in his story “On Exactitude in Science” a map that corresponded in size and scale at every point with the territory. Borges, wrote Colin Marshall in a previous Open Culture post, “illustrated the idea that all maps are wrong by imagining the preposterousness of a truly correct one.”

That observation occurs in the context of a video from Vox that explains why it is mathematically impossible to create a completely accurate flat world map at any scale.

We must abstract; “the surface of a sphere cannot be represented as a plane without some form of distortion,” and so cartographers use a technique called “projection.” The design mapmakers have most popularly used dates to 1569, from a cylindrical projection by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

For either cultural or navigational reasons, this hugely distorted map inflates the size of Europe and North America and makes Greenland and Africa roughly the same size. A long overdue update, the Peters Projection from 1973, improved the Mercator’s accuracy, but at the cost of legibility and proportion.

But last year, architect and artist Hajime Narukawa of Keio University’s Graduate School of Media and Governance in Tokyo solved these problems with his AuthaGraph World Map, at the top, which won Japan’s Good Design Grand Award, beating out “over 1000 entries in a variety of categories,” writes Mental Floss. You can view it in a larger format here.

Instead of abstracting the globe into a cylinder, then a plane, as the Mercator Projection did, the AuthaGraph turns the earth into a tetrahedron, which then unfolds in any number of ways, as you can see further up, and “can be tessellated just like an MC Escher painting… much in the same way that we can traverse the planet without ever coming to an end.” Rather than one focal point—the North Atlantic in Mercator’s case---nearly any place around the earth can be at the center. Versions of the map are already being used in Japanese textbooks, and you can purchase a poster or buy a paper kit that allows you to unfold your own globe-to-tetrahedron-to-rectangle map (see above).

The video above from Ponder explains the AuthaGraph design, which is not—and could never be---100% mathematically accurate, but can, Narukawa writes, with “a further step” in its subdivisions “be officially called an equal-area map.” The concept was important to him because of the urgent relevance of globalist thinking. As he points out, writes Japanese design blog Spoon & Tamago, “A large bulk of the 20th century was dominated by an emphasis on East and West relations. But with issues like climate change, melting glaciers in Greenland and territorial sea claims, it’s time we establish a new view of the world.” Those in the centers of Eastern and Western power ignore the rest of the world at everyone's peril. It may help to have a much more equitable way to visualize our shared planet.

Note: Several readers mentioned that this map seems obviously influenced by Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion map. We have since written a separate post on that. Find it here.


via Mental Floss

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

A Handy, Detailed Map Shows the Hometowns of Characters in the Iliad

Click here to see a larger version of the map.

You’ve adjusted to the strangeness of names like Ascalaphus and Phidippus. You’ve more or less figured out who’s on which side in the ancient war between Greece and Troy. But as literary epics will do---from the ancient Greeks and Indians to the 19th century Russians---Homer’s Iliad also presents you with several logistical puzzles you must either ignore or spend countless hours trying to solve: you are given the names of major and minor characters’ hometowns, ranging all over the Adriatic, Ionian, Cretan, and Aegean Seas. Doubtless you have no idea where most of these places were.

Again and again, place names occur in rapid succession, and you're told not only who hails from where, but who commands and conquers which city. Just a smattering of examples from Book II (in Samuel Butler's translation):

Ulysses led the brave Cephallenians, who held Ithaca, Neritum with its forests, Crocylea, rugged Aegilips, Samos and Zacynthus, with the mainland also that was over against the islands. 

Thoas, son of Andraemon, commanded the Aetolians, who dwelt in Pleuron, Olenus, Pylene, Chalcis by the sea, and rocky Calydon, 

And those that held Pherae by the Boebean lake, with Boebe, Glaphyrae, and the populous city of Iolcus

“Huh,” you say, “Okay, Homer, I’ll take your word for it.” Questions of historicity aside, we can at least say that the hundreds of cities and towns mentioned in this culturally formative text did exist, or continue to do so, though it’s debatable, as Jason Kottke writes, whether “that level of mobility was accurate for the time [somewhere in the 11th or 12th century BC] or if Homer simply populated his poem with folks from all over Greece as a way of making listeners from many areas feel connected to the story.”

In any case, you need not despair of ever making sense of Homer’s bewildering geographical lists. The map above (click here to see it in a larger format) handily illustrates the world of the Iliad, showing the places of origins of a few dozen characters, with Greeks in green and Trojans in yellow. Kottke notes in an addendum to his post that “not every character is represented… (particularly the women) and… some of the locations and hometowns are incorrect.” We would welcome corrections—as would Wikipedia---if an enterprising classics scholar has the time and energy to devote to such an effort.

But for the lay reader of Homer’s epic, the map more than suffices as helpful visual context for a very complicated narrative. One defining feature of a war epic well-told, most critics would say, is that the human drama does not get lost in the scale and scope of the action. More than any other form, the epic illustrates what Tolstoy described in War and Peace as the “historical sense” that our conflicts are “bound up with the whole course of history and preordained from all eternity.” But against this kind of determinism, the great poets particularize, making their characters seem not like props in a cosmic drama but like actual people from actual places on earth. Seeing the Iliad mapped above reinforces our sense of the Greek epics as genuine—if fantastical—accounts of meaningful human action in the world.

You can find free versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey in our collection of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.


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

Bauhaus Artist László Moholy-Nagy Designs an Avant-Garde Map to Help People Get Over the Fear of Flying (1936)

Though he’s hardly a household name like Kandinsky or Klee, Hungarian painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy was just as influential as those members of Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus during the 1920s. As a teacher and one of the collective’s “leading figures,” Fiona MacCarthy argues, he may have indeed been, “the most inventive and engaging of all the Bauhaus artists.” Where all of the school's members embraced, and sometimes critiqued, emerging technologies, materials, and modes of production, perhaps none did so with such conviction as Moholy-Nagy.

“Everyone is equal before the machine,” he once wrote, “I can use it; so can you. It can crush me; the same can happen to you.” His cool “grasp of new technologies,” writes MacCarthy, “was prophetic.... Entranced by the mechanized production of artworks,” he ridiculed “the artists’ traditional stance as individual creator.” Many modern artists shunned advertising work, but in Moholy-Nagy’s case, the transition seems perfectly natural and consistent with his theory. He also needed the money. Having fled the Nazis and settled in London in 1935, the artist found himself, notes Hyperallergic, “looking to pick up some work to support his displaced life.”

He found it in 1936 through the UK’s Imperial Airways, who commissioned him to apply “his constructivist style” to a map (view it in a larger format here) intended to reassure nervous potential customers of the safety of air travel, a still new and frightening prospect for most travelers. He did so in a way that “makes air travel seem as approachable as stepping on the subway,” with his officiously color-coded “Map of Empire & European Air Routes.” The map, according to Rumsey, "draws on the pioneering information design work of Harry Beck and his London subway maps,” made in 1933 and "originally considered too radical."

In addition to this businesslike presentation of orderly and predictable flight patterns, Moholy-Nagy created a brochure for the British airline (see the cover above and more pages here). Incorporating the so-called “Speedbird symbol,” these designs, writes Paul Jarvis, made “the point that Imperial spanned the empire and in time would span the world.” Not everyone was impressed. British transit executive Frank Pick, who presided over the visual identity of the London Underground, called Mohagy-Nagy “a gentleman with a modernistic tendency... of a surrealistic type, and I am not at all clear why we should fall for this.” His comments underscore MacCarthy’s argument that the Hungarian artist’s reputation suffered in England because of nationalist hostilities.

Mohagy-Nagy’s art “is international,” said Pick, “or at least continental. Let us leave the continent to pursue their own tricks.” The statement now seems a bit uncanny, though of course Pick could have had nothing like Brexit in mind. As far as Imperial Airlines was concerned, Mohagy-Nagy’s “continental” avant-gardism was exactly what the company needed to entice wary, yet adventurous passengers. You can download free high resolution scans of the map, or buy a print, at the David Rumsey Map Collection (an original vintage poster will cost you between four and six thousand dollars). And see some of Mohagy-Nagy’s less commercial work at this downloadable collection of Bauhaus books and journals.

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

75 Years of CIA Maps Now Declassified & Made Available Online


Satellite-connected devices do all the hard work of navigation for us: plan journeys, plot distances, tell us where we are and where we’re going. The age of the highly skilled cartographer may be coming to an end. But in the past few hundred years—since European states began carving the world between them—the winners of colonial contests, World War battles, and Cold War skirmishes were often those who had the best maps. In addition to their indispensable role in seafaring and battle strategy, “good maps,” writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian, have been “an integral part of the tradecraft of espionage.”

The CIA will tell you as much... or they will now, at least, since they’ve declassified decades of once-secret maps from the days when they “relied on geographers and cartographers for planning and executing operations around the world" rather than on "digital mapping technologies and satellite images."

Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the CIA’s Cartography Center boasts of “a long, proud history of service to the Intelligence Community,” at the Agency’s friendly website; “Since 1941, the Cartography Center maps have told the stories of post-WWII reconstruction, the Suez crisis, the Cuban Missile crisis, the Falklands War, and many other important events in history.”


Whatever noble or nefarious roles the Agency may have played in these and hundreds of other events, we can now see--thanks to this new online gallery at Flickr--what presidents, Directors, and field agents saw when they planned their actions, beginning with the country’s first “non-departmental intelligence organization,” the COI (Office of the Coordinator of Information). Once the U.S. entered WWII, it became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The Cartography Center’s first chief, Arthur Robinson, was only 26 and a graduate student in geography when COI director William Donovan recruited him to lead the organization. The office rapidly expanded during the war, and by 1943, “geographers and cartographers amassed what would be the largest collection of maps in the world.”


In the early forties, “map layers were drafted by hand using pen and ink on translucent acetate sheets mounted on large Strathmore boards.” These drafts were typically four times larger than the printed maps themselves, one of which you can see at the top of the post, “The Russian Front in Review.” In the fifties, “improved efficiency in map compilation and construction” produced visually striking documents like that further up from 1955, “USSR: Regional Distribution of Gross National Product.” Not a map, but what we would call an infographic, this image shows how the Cartography Center performed services far in excess of the usual map app—visualizing threats to the U.S. from Cuban surface-to-air missile sites in 1962 (above) and threats to the African elephant population from poachers in 2013 (below). Further down, you can see a 2003 map of Baghdad, with the ominously non-threatening note printed at the top and right, "This map is NOT to be used for TARGETING."


These maps and many more can be found at the CIA Cartography Flickr account, which has a category for each decade since the 1940s. Each map is downloadable in low to high resolution scans. In addition, one category, “Cartography Tools,” features high-quality photography of vintage draughtsman’s instruments, all of them, like the German-made ink pens further down, symbols of the painstaking handicraft mapmaking once required. While we can probably draw any number of political lessons or historical theses from a deep analysis of this deep state archive, what it seems to ask of us first and foremost is that we consider cartography as not only a useful discipline but as a fine art.


As the Cartography Center’s first director put it, “a map should be aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking, and communicative.” Given these standards we might see how current technology, for all its tremendous ease of use and undeniable utility, might improve by looking to maps of the past. Visit the CIA's flickr gallery here.


via Smithsonian

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

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