Posts Tagged ‘American history’
In the midst of the intense partisanship we experience today– with Americans polarized into red and blue camps and no convergence in sight– it’s easy to forget that much of the nation’s history was characterized by similarly-intense political rivalry, especially the late nineteenth century.
The map above, created in 1883, was created by Census Superintendent Henry Gannett, and published the massive Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, which included maps of each presidential election. The series ended with this unprecedented attempt to map the returns of the 1880 presidential election not just at the state but the county level.
Such data maps are routine today. But this one stunned nineteenth-century Americans by showing them a nation organized not according to railroads and towns, or mountains and rivers, but Democrats and Republicans. The parties, of course, represented entirely different agendas then, and even their color associations were reversed. On the Scribner map, red denotes Democrats, while blue marks Republicans. Yet the overall portrait is strangely familiar, with red blanketing much of the south while blue spreads across the north. (As to the color scheme reversal, it’s a bit of a mystery. Republicans are now generally represented with red and Democrats with blue, a change that seems to have taken hold sometime after the 2000 election. But other colors were used as well through the twentieth century, as in Paullin and Wright’s Atlas of 1932.)
The 1880 campaign itself was rather routine, with little of substance to differentiate the two parties aside from their positions on tariff policy. Yet the election itself was as much of a nail biter as 1876 had been: nine million Americans turned out, and when it was over Republican James Garfield had outpolled the Democrat by a margin of just 7,000 votes nationwide.
Focus on the outcome by states—the only measure that matters in the Electoral College—and the map shows a nation that seems hopelessly divided along a north-south axis, still fighting the Civil War by other means. Democrats control the former slave states, while Republicans hold an edge in the northeast and Midwest… the map revealed spatial patterns and relationships that might otherwise remain hidden, or only known anecdotally. Perhaps its no coincidence that at the same time the two parties began to launch more coordinated, disciplined, nationwide campaigns, creating a system of two-party rule that we have lived with ever since.
More all-too-familiar-seeming charts and graphs– and an account of the social and political temper of those times– at “The Story Behind the Ancient Map That Invented Red and Blue States.”
* John Adams
As we party on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that the Lincoln-Douglas debates began. It was the first of a series of public encounters on the issue of slavery between Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and one-time U.S. representative from Illinois. The two politicians, the former a Northern Democrat and the latter a Republican, were competing for Douglas’ U.S. Senate seat. In the seven debates–each lasting about three hours–Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery while Douglas maintained that each territory should have the right to decide whether it would become free or slave. Lincoln lost the Senate race, but his campaign brought national attention to the young Republican Party– whose Presidential candidate he became two years later.
Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people by treaty and executive order. Watch Native Americans’ land evaporate at The Invasion of America, an interactive map that illustrates how the U.S. took over an eighth of the world.
Produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, the site is a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887. As blue “Indian homelands” disappear, small red areas appear, indicating the establishment of reservations.
[via the invaluable Rebecca Onion]
* Chief Joseph-Nez Perce
As we redraw the Caucasian Chalk Circle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Navajos signed a treaty of capitulation after the Long Walk: Kit Carson had rounded up 8,000 Navajos and forced them to walk from their traditional home in Eastern Arizona more than 300 miles to the Bosque Redondo in southern New Mexico– a “reservation” that to all appearances was more like a prison camp.
The 93rd U.S. Congress, 1973-74, considered 26,157 bills; it made 738 (3%) of them law. The 103rd Congress, 1993-94, enacted 458 (5%) of the 9,746 bills it considered. The current Congress– the 113th, 2013-14– has so far introduced 7,980 bills, and passed only 100 (just over 1%) of them.
The Legislative Explorer, from researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy, allows readers to follow the lawmaking process– over 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to present– in action.
The left half represents the U.S. Senate, with senators sorted by party (blue=Democrat) and a proxy for ideology (top=liberal). The House is displayed on the right. Moving in from the borders, the standing committees of the Senate and House are represented, followed by the Senate and House floors. A bill approved by both chambers then moves upward to the President’s desk and into law, while an adopted resolutions (that does not require the president’s signature) moves downward.
Each dot represents a bill, so one can see them move through the process. The drop-down menus at the top allow a shift of focus to a specific Congress, a person, a party, a topic, and several other categorizations; and there’s search to allow one to examine specific bills. Counters across the bottom of the screen keep track of the action… or the lack thereof.
[TotH to Flowing Data]
* Mark Twain
As we yield, Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from the District of Columbia, we might think expansionist thoughts in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose emissaries Robert Livingston and James Monroe signed the the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, called by some “the letter that bought a continent,” in Paris on this date in 1803… and in one stroke (well, three strokes– Livingston, Monroe, and French representative Barbé Marbois all signed) doubled the size of the United States.
But to change it, you have to know what that organization is…
With this 1855 chart, Daniel McCallum, general superintendent of the New York and Erie Railroad, tried to define an organizational structure that would allow management of a business that was becoming unwieldy in its size. The document is generally recognized to be the first formal organizational chart.
Historian Caitlin Rosenthal, writing in the McKinsey Quarterly, points out that the chart was a way for McCallum to get a handle on a complex system made more confusing by the new availability of data from the use of the telegraph (invented in 1844). Information about problems down the track was important to have—it could help prevent train wrecks and further delays—but the New York and Erie’s personnel didn’t have a good sense of who was in charge of managing this data and putting it into action…
Read the whole story in the ever-illuminating Rebecca Onion’s “The First Modern Organizational Chart Is a Thing of Beauty.”
* Anthropologist Mary Douglas
As we grapple with grapple with the Great Chain of Being, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that General Motors formally recognized the United Auto Workers as the collective bargaining representatives of GM workers. The decision came on the heels of a 44-day sit-down strike that had begun in December, 1936, and that had idled 48,000 employees. Still (to Dr. Douglas’ point), old habits die hard: two month later GM guards assaulted and beat UAW leaders at the company’s Rouge River plant.
Photographer Steve Kenward celebrates the craftsmen and women who fashion things by hand…
Many more elegant photo essays at “Made Not Manufactured.”
As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1872 that Susan B. Anthony cast a ballot in the presidential election at her local polling station in Rochester, NY– an act for which she was arrested two weeks later. The presiding judge at her trial (U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt) refused to let her testify directly, explicitly ordered the jury to return a guilty verdict, refused to poll the jury afterwards, and read an opinion he had written before the trial even started; Ms. Anthony was convicted. But her public defense of her action, rooted in the recently-adopted Fourteenth Amendment (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”) generated sufficient public support to accelerate her campaign for women’s rights. And while her sentence was a fine of $100, the U.S. government never tried to collect.
Lake Providence lies in East Carroll Parish in the northeast corner of Louisiana…
It’s a place where the air is so soupy-hot your shins sweat; where bugs are such a looping, whirring presence that it can feel like you’re trapped in hell’s version of a snow globe; and where the level of income inequality, as persistent as the bugs and humidity, is higher than any other parish or county in America…
Since the late 1970s, the gap between rich and poor has widened to Grand Canyon proportions — pushing America toward a two-class society. People have a harder time getting ahead now than at any time since the Great Depression.
The nation is more economically split, according to the CIA, than Iran or Nigeria.
East Carroll Parish, population 7,500 and home to Lake Providence, is worse off still…
And of course, the difference makes a difference…
This is well documented in a book called “The Spirit Level” by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Drawing on decades of work, the researchers found, essentially, that people who live in economically unequal places — such as Louisiana or the United States as a whole — tend to live harder lives.
Not just poor people. All people.
When the researchers plotted income inequality against an index of social problems that included infant mortality, mental health and others, they got the chart below, which shows that more unequal places tend to have more of these issues. The United States, the most unequal of the developed countries, for example, also has the world’s highest incarceration rate and a higher infant mortality rate than comparable nations. Sweden, meanwhile, has a low level of income inequality and fares much better on these social measures….
Read the whole story– it’s eminently worth reading the whole story– (with more and bigger, more-legible charts) at “The Most Unequal Place in America.”
As we mind the gap, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930, in Atlanta, that Jessie Daniel Ames founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.
For those with delicate ears, New York City in the 1930s was a 24-hour nightmare. The city rumbled, squeaked, mewed, and tooted thanks to the aural diarrhea of ice deliverers, cattle-car operators, jazz players, river dredgers, steam whistle-happy boat captains, cats, dogs, chickens, and construction workers shooting rivets into everything in sight.
The cacophony that thundered through New York in the Jazz Age has now received proper cartographic attention from Emily Thompson, a historian at Princeton who studies acoustic innovation and the historical “emergence of excessive noise,” according to her MacArthur “genius grant” bio. Back in 2002, Thompson penned a book about noise and architecture called The Soundscape of Modernity, which triggered a flood of people bugging her to work up a companion piece that you could actually, you know, hear. More than a decade later the result is here for all to savor: The Roaring ‘Twenties, an interactive map of roughly 600 peevish, outraged, and frequently hilarious noise complaints from 1926 to 1932.
By offering a website dedicated to the sounds of New York City circa 1930, The Roaring ‘Twenties is following the lead of countless other individuals and organizations who have turned the web into a vast sonic archive, delivering a previously unimaginable wealth of historic sound recordings to anyone with a connection and a desire to listen in. With The Roaring ‘Twenties, I hope we not only add to that archive, but also set an example by doing so in an explicitly historically-minded way. The aim here is not just to present sonic content, but to evoke the original contexts of those sounds, to help us better understand that context as well as the sounds themselves. The goal is to recover the meaning of sound, to undertake a historicized mode of listening that tunes our modern ears to the pitch of the past. Simply clicking a “play” button will not do.
Head on over to the site and you’ll be confronted with this pigeon’s-eye view of the city. Each target represents one noise complaint, often accompanied by old news-reel footage offering the sights and sounds of those responsible for the rowdy decibels: grinning jackhammer operators, clacking elevated trains, boys racing homemade scooters, whanging blacksmiths, a particularly loud-mouthed preacher from the Salvation Army:
More of the story– and wonderful sample cases– at “Exploring the Hilarious Noise Complaints of 1930s New York.”
As we cover our ears, we might recall that this is a resonant anniversary in the Big Apple’s sonic history: on this date in 1904 New York City Mayor George McClellan took the controls on the inaugural run of the city’s innovative new rapid transit system: the subway. London had the world’s first underground (opened in 1863); Boston, America’s first (1897). But New York’s subway quickly became the largest in the U.S… and a significant contributor to the din that accompanies life in The City That Never Sleeps.