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Posts Tagged ‘gerrymander

“The writing of history reflects the interests, predilections, and even prejudices of a given generation”*…

 

archive

History, as a discipline, comes out of the archive. The archive is not the library, but something else entirely. Libraries spread knowledge that’s been compressed into books and other media. Archives are where collections of papers are stored, usually within a library’s inner sanctum: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s papers, say, at the New York Public Library. Or Record Group 31 at the National Archives—a set of Federal Housing Administration documents from the 1930s to the ’70s. Usually, an archive contains materials from the people and institutions near it. So, the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford contains everything from Atari’s business plans to HP co-founder William Hewlett’s correspondence.

While libraries have become central actors in the digitization of knowledge, archives have generally resisted this trend. They are still almost overwhelmingly paper. Traditionally, you’d go to a place like this and sit there, day after day, “turning every page,” as the master biographer Robert Caro put it. You might spend weeks, months, or, like Caro, years working through all the boxes, taking extensive notes and making some (relatively expensive) photocopies. Fewer and fewer people have the time, money, or patience to do that. (If they ever did.)

Enter the smartphone, and cheap digital photography. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians can snap pictures of the documents and then look at them later. Ian Milligan, a historian at the University of Waterloo, noticed the trend among his colleagues and surveyed 250 historians, about half of them tenured or tenure-track, and half in other positions, about their work in the archives. The results quantified the new normal. While a subset of researchers (about 23 percent) took few (fewer than 200) photos, the plurality (about 40 percent) took more than 2,000 photographs for their “last substantive project.”

The driving force here is simple enough. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. So an archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Some researchers organize their photos swiping on an iPhone, or with an open-source tool named Tropy; some, like Alex Wellerstein, a historian at Stevens Institute of Technology, have special digital-camera setups, and a standardized method. In my own work, I used Dropbox’s photo tools, which I used to output PDFs, which I dropped into Scrivener, my preferred writing software.

These practices might seem like a subtle shift—researchers are still going to collections and requesting boxes and reading papers—but the ways that information is collected and managed transmute what historians can learn from it. There has been, as Milligan put it, a “dramatic reshaping of historical practice.” Different histories will be written because the tools of the discipline are changing…

Alexis Madrigal takes a deep dive into how archives– and the ways that we use them– are morphing: “The Way We Write History Has Changed.”

* John Hope Franklin

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As we “turn every page,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1812 that Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed the redistricting legislation that led to his being accused of the first instance of “gerrymandering” in the U.S.

In 1812 the state adopted new constitutionally-mandated electoral district boundaries. The Republican-controlled legislature had created district boundaries designed to enhance their party’s control over state and national offices, leading to some oddly shaped legislative districts. Although Gerry was unhappy about the highly partisan districting (according to his son-in-law, he thought it “highly disagreeable”), he signed the legislation. The shape of one of the state senate districts in Essex County was compared to a salamander by a local Federalist newspaper in a political cartoon, calling it a “Gerry-mander.” Ever since, the creation of such districts has been called gerrymandering. [source]

220px-The_Gerry-Mander_Edit

The word “gerrymander” (originally written “Gerry-mander”) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812.[78] Appearing with the term, and helping spread and sustain its popularity, was this political cartoon, which depicts a state senate district in Essex County as a strange salamander-shaped animal with claws, wings and a dragon-type head, satirizing the district’s odd shape.

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Redistricting on the grandest scale…

 click here for larger version

Dr. Andrew Shears is a geographer by both vocation and avocation.  Fascinated by American history, and by what might have been, he created the map above…

I discovered a list that really intrigued me like none other: the List of U.S. State Partition Proposals. For a geographer/cartographer who’s a U.S.-specialist and who’s interested in alternate history, this was Kryptonite for my productivity. From this list, I stumbled onto listings for U.S. Territories that Failed to Become States and the listing for the hypothetical 51st State. I even came across a nice little book called Lost States, a humorous account from Michael Trinklein that briefly explores a number of random states that never quite happened.

After reading all of these things, and all of the linked pages connected — that’s where Wikipedia really sucks you in — I, of course, allowed my own mind to wander and I came up with the beginnings of a historical geography narrative for the United States of my own, drawing on each of these sources. How could I spell this out? Well, I’m no novelist, because I just really don’t have the imagination or skills necessary to put together a story in that format. However, I can make maps here and there, and I firmly believe that maps can do a pretty good job telling a story.

What did I end up with? My own alternate history U.S. map of 124 states…

As one watches the U.S. government congeal into an unappetizing mess– as representatives, “serving” districts and states shaped though decades and decades of gerrymandering, vote narrow interests in search of advantage in elections-to-come– we might ponder Dr. Shear’s reminder of how differently it might all have looked…  if only for the reminder that it didn’t have to be– nor does it have in the future to be– this way.

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As we wonder what in the world became of Mr. Smith, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that President James Buchanan signed into law the Congressional Act creating the “organized incorporated Territory of Colorado.”  The land had come to the U.S. in 1848 as part of the  spoils of the Mexican-American War.  Then populated virtually exclusively by Native Americans, white settlers flooded in with the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858.  Pressure from those new arrivals, along with a different kind of pressure felt by Washington as Southern states were seceding in the run-up to the Civil War (this was the period immediately before Lincoln’s inauguration), spurred the action– which expanded the Union and gave it access to the gold and other minerals in the Southern Rockies.

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Written by LW

February 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

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