What We Really Want to Eat?

Shortly after New York Times produced an elegantly pictorial map of Thanksgiving recipes in each state, to emphasize the varied bounties of our national cuisine, the Upshot decided to rethink how to map of the harvest meal.  Rather than concentrating on whetting taste buds, they consulted the new masters of the web to mine data for a map of most-Googled recipes that emerged this morning in the Upshot, as if in counterpoint to the Twitter-maps, offered an inside-out version of the same map, as Google researchers helped identify the most-searched for recipe by state as a more “democratic” counterpart to suggest what is being made for Thanksgiving tables across the fifty states and Puerto Rico.  While this doesn’t seem an invasion of privacy, the results of these Google searches present a striking picture of the national palate.

The results included many local favorites, but were not that encouraging on the front of healthy winter foods:

Thanksgiving Menu Map

 

 

The non-geographically-specific nature of this map of the cornucopia of foodstuffs that folks seek to confect for Thanksgiving is perhaps it’s most striking quality, but despite the diversity of names some strikingly similarly analogies between the most searched items for thanksgiving dinners occur in the country–squash in the northeast; cakes in the deep south; wild rice in the northern midwest; fruit salads in the Northwest.  While it’s not surprising the folks in Montana have the most concerns about fruit salad, the popularity of “frog eye salad” among its neighbors in Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming suggests something of a rush on frogs that seems decidedly regional in its appeal–but is actually a concoction of pineapple, eggs, coconut and mandarin oranges with marshmallows, akin to the nearby deserts of the midwestern Candyland of Cookie Salad and Snicker Salad, probably corresponding to folks loading up on sucrose and glucose for the cold weather of winter.  “Dirt pudding” may suggest some desperation or a shortage of cash in Ohio, or some scraping of the pockets for recipes after the scouring of supermarket shelves, but is a similar Oreo cookie and vanilla pudding concoction often decorated with gummy worms; and Pumpkin Whoopie Pie a bit of a local fad of the craze for holiday-themed deserts in the more wintry Northeast.

This is a sort of American obsession with interesting variations in the south–4-Layer Delight in Arkansas; Key Lime Cake in Georgia; Pineapple Casserole in South Carolina; Chess Bars in Tennessee; cinnamon and vanilla Sopapilla Cheesecake in Oklahoma; Hawaiian Salad in Illinois and Persimmon Pudding, a local treat in Indiana, where it grows wild in abundance, if it’s native to the southeastern states.

Which leads us to wonder, if these are the foods that most Americans are busy preparing to put on their holiday tables, are the other recipes being handed down or bought as prepared foods?  To be sure, wild rice Brownberry Stuffing of wild rice and mushrooms has a nice Wisconsin ring, and pairs nicely with Minnesotans interest in Wild Rice Casserole, even if it met with local skepticism.  But while folks in Portland are opting to search for vegan mushroom gravy for their tofurkeys or mashed potatoes, and in Seattle can afford the smoked Salmon dip, aside from the residents of New Mexico looking at leftovers with “turkey enchiladas” or the Virginians who love their collard greens, most folks seem looking to indulge in high levels of corn syrup.  Pretzel Salad isn’t exactly farm-to-table.  But, then again, what in the world does a Google Search say?  (Maybe after watching Citizenfour for the Holidays, most folks realize the NSA is likely to be reading their searches, and intentionally circumscribe searches, even for what they’re ready to eat.  Or, more likely, it suggests the limits of what information NSA folks can get from Google searches.)  But is it possible that folks aren’t looking online for times for the basting of their turkeys, or do they just prefer to get such information from a human voice that can be questioned about specific details of culinary preparations?

Rather than a violent reaction to Michael Pollan’s suggestion we eat more greens, the Google searches may reflect just how far away we’ve grown from farms, though that isn’t much news in itself.  In 2011, the USDA’s agricultural census (agcensus.usda.gov) offered a basis for a compelling Esri “story map” or spatial narrative of who far food travels to arrive on most Thanksgiving tables.   The nice bubble map includes the provenance of the turkeys from big agribusiness in the Midwestern states or the central eastern states, with a considerable cluster from the farms in California’s Central Valley, even those birds blessed by Bill Niman–but are very predictably focused on regions where there is already a pre-existing plenty of soybeans and corn to feed turkeys–which is why they are few and far between from Montana to Texas, or Kansas to Utah.  That turkeys seem raised overwhelmingly in very a restricted region on the map seems a casualty of American agribusiness, if raised by the millions–and served up in some 46 million birds to create the illusion of plenty on dining room tables,  and market the notion of holiday cheer.  (This despite their relatively wide small-size farming in much of the midwest.)  When we place a turkey on the table, lest we forget most are shipped up to half way across the United States, we might review the story map a bit below:

 

Turkeys 2011Smithsonian/ESRI maps

 

The vast bulk of the population of sourced turkeys that feed the nation seem to have been in 2011 agglomerated, by the tens of millions, in the area of North Carolina and Virginia, as well as around Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana and Arkansas.  That’s not only one farm, but the predominance of turkeys raised in North Carolina, origin of much turkey served in the south and central states, seems clear.

 

Midwest and NC TurkeysSmithsonian/ESRI maps

 

And there seems a remarkably similar concentration of the sweet potato, that vegetable often most destined for the Thanksgiving table beside green beans:

 

Sweet potatoes

 

For the record, and to tell the full Esri story, or allow that story to speak, green beans grew widely in 2011–save in the same places that a variety of fruit salads of undefined origin seem particularly popular:

 

greeen beans

 

But the real persistence of localism in the arrivals on the table seems rooted not in the origins of the meat or the yams, but in the persistence of localism of the cultivation of cranberries–that indelibly red fruit that grows and indeed seems to act as a custodian for local culinary traditions in many of the very same regions where the least confected google searches were made:  dependent on environmental particularity, the survival of the cranberries in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon is tied to old agriculture, which may well be tied to the searching for staples as vegan stuffing, wild rice casserole, wild rice stuffing, mashed butternut squash that bode the survival of the winter vegetable.

 

cranberries

 

The persistent localism of farmed cranberries is a sort of index of the survival of agrarian geography–

 

Wisconsin cranberries

 

PErsistence of localism in cranberries-MA

 

–and, in one slightly optimistic if also unwarranted reading, of a persistent taste for the locally grown.

The localism of the cranberry, which demands bogs and abundant wetlands, and a period of winter, makes them both the talismanic reminder of seasonal crops with which we’re left in late November, the reminder of the agricultural calendar of the stuff on the table, together with the persimmons of southern Indiana and perhaps the collard greens of Virginia.  Furthest from the agrarian time cycle, it seems, the Google searches tend to turn far more readily to the most confected.

Perhaps the annual transport of sweet potatoes and some 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving entails also make one realize the illusory culinary diversity the Times mapped:  perhaps we wish that fewer folks would continue improvising desert rather than shipping trussed birds cross-country, or keep accompanying the carving of the chicken that is bulked up with water, stuffing, and potatoes with a suitably over-the-top desert.

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Filed under mapping agribusiness, mapping foods, mapping local foods, mapping meat, mapping thanksgiving, mapping turkey farms, Michael Pollan

KXL

Although the Senate failed to pass the bill to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the fight was intensely waged before a map.  Politically isolated, Senator Mary Landrieu stood before a map which she sought to use to symbolize her relation to the nation.  Indeed, the map proudly displayed appeared to use the image of the Keystone pipeline to restore or burnish the image of America as an energy superpower.  Yet as oil consumption is declining nationwide–and are still attuned to changing gas prices, even if we face an oil glut–the declining significance of oil to US energy problems, Landrieu used the map as something of a backdrop to sell the pipeline by placing it at the center of an image of energy independence.

But even though the map foregrounded the impact of the Keystone pipeline on a national energy system, her plea to place the proposal on President Obama’s desk was about illustrating her commitment to job creation.  She barely concealed her longstanding support from the oil industry, which would be the benefactor of pumping oily bitumen across the nation to be refined on the Gulf Coast.  (The contested question of how much bitumen carried on the pipeline would remain in the United States is contested, and TransCanada has queried whether it makes any sense waited six years to pump crude to the United States to be refined on a 1,179 mile long pipeline:  but the discovery of shale deposits and growth of fracking in the intervening years have led to the redefinition of original plans to send the Canadian crude to American markets; the decline of the arrival of crude suppliers to the Gulf Coast have also increased the demand to pump more oil to the region.)  And after the bill failed to gain the necessary 60 votes to pass, a Lakota native American tribesman from South Dakota, the second of the six states through which the planned pipeline would snake, broke into song in the Senate chambers, as the Rosebud Sioux declared that the “fight against” the impending threat that its construction poses to the Ogallala aquifer had just begun.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.05.36 PMNew York Times

 

Yet for Senator Landrieu, and the pipeline’s supporters, the debate was cast about “independence”–a keyword that has been cunningly reappropriated, and was being given new significance at this instance to inflect national debate.  For all its positive connotations of American history and national character, the keyword’s use is almost ironic in the context of the multinational project, since the “independence” would be embedded in a global market for petroleum and petroleum products, without any clear relation to the long-term reduction of the price of gasoline or cost of energy bills.

“And when I mean energy independence,” Senator Landrieu firmly told the U.S. Senate, emphasizing a quite compelling if cunningly crafted keyword, “I mean energy independence for the North American continent,”hoping to muster the votes needed to pass Keystone XL before voters would decide her future in the Senate.  The outgoing Secretary of the Energy Committee spoke before a map which displayed in detail the 2.5 million miles of pipelines across the United States as if they incarnated an established model of practice, and, by virtue of the superimposition of the Keystone upon them, realized her promise of energy independence.  The gas and oil pipelines running across the map behind her illustrate the notion of the nation as self-sufficient she wanted to suggest:  she often gestured to it as if it made good on the questionable promise of “energy independence” for the continent.  Although President Obama’s claim that the pipeline allows “Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else” has been questioned, the oil would not simply enter the national free market.

Although Senator Landrieu based her elusive promise of independence in laying the planned Keystone XL pipeline to transfer crude oil 3, 400 miles from Alberta to Port Arthur, the diluted bitumen–“dilbit”–would not be destined for national consumption in the form of gasoline.  It would enrich refiners and petroleum-based industries clustered along the eighty-mile stretch of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans–industries whose presence in that region of the sinuous waters of the Bayoux have impacted the region with grevious environmental degradation area, a previous post argued, mapping the toxic density of petroleum byproduct industries as well as refineries in land formerly lived on by share-croppers.  Landrieu dedicated her attention to pushing for support of extending a pipeline that would extract, at great cost and environmental damages, oil trapped in the tar sands of Alberta to bring it to Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast, where it could be refined for export in some part, but the only jobs it might stand to create would be at ports.

 

keystone-xl-map

 

To be sure, the issue is more complicated: there are multiple refineries that the proposed pipeline would pass, and the US has become a huge exporter of petroleum products from asphalt to jet fuel to gasoline, all of which could be increased by the consumption of more Canadian crude:  the storage tanks of crude oil reserves along the proposed pipeline in Montana, Oklahoma are all near to refineries, and many refineries in Texas are in great demand of new crude, which the pipeline would no doubt provide.

 

png;base6460b8b39ddd4b0615

 

But the plans for sending the bulk of bitumen to the Gulf Coast would allow the excess of oil products to be sent directly to the Gulf Coast:  at present, Gulf Coast refineries already export one third of the oil they refine.

In presenting the senate chambers with a map of national pipelines, Senator Landrieu however pointedly minimized the potential costs of a pipeline, mapped above by dotted red lines, and the potentials of leakages into the Ogallala Aquifer that feeds the Mississippi or the Nebraska Sand Hills, the second largest in the entire world, and normalize the importation of energy into the US.  The map Landrieu propped up in the Senate chamber overlay the Keystone extension onto the nation as if it were an emblem “energy independence” in misleading ways.  For if the map’s focus suggested that the oil would be destined for a national market, it just sought to normalize the pipeline within an existing web of laid line, downplaying its length.  (This knowing use of a map reflects a political strategy first refined by Republicans seeking to stay on message and minimize the novelty of the Keystone line into current practices of energy transport across America.)

The map conveyed an apparent seamlessness with oil would be brought to the Gulf Coast–in ways that would attract more refineries and petrochemical industries to the state, as well as much-needed jobs, seemed as elusive as its promise of energy “independence.”  “What people in Louisiana want, what people in Texas want, what people in Mississippi want, what people in New Jersey want, what people in South Dakota and Illinois and Kansas and Vermont,” Landrieu argued in a quite overly broad geographic over-generalization of the states where work might be brought by the pipeline, “are good-paying jobs.”  Yet the jobs would be primarily for transient short-term works, and bringing considerable long-term costs.  While unemployment is high, the range of jobs that the XL pipeline brought with it would not change the 15.7% seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for construction workers in the US, and would have minimal influence over folks in Vermont, New Jersey, and Mississippi, even if those Senators might be persuaded to support it.

And the question of its overall energy efficiency in this entire affair is unclear, although the degree that corporations would benefit from the transfer is–the costly overland transport of the oil would lead to an increased pollution from refining that would release 240 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  Lastly, the map concealed the potential future environmental damage created by leakages, especially into the Mississippi.  And aside from illustrating the costly overland transport of still more oil to the refineries in her state, the notion that the diluted bitumen would be brought across the border to benefit the country by being refined in Louisiana for export, rather than the elusive goal of energy independence, which seems a red herring in this debate.

The promise of “energy independence” seems something of a sham, unless one somehow considers the needs for petroleum products meant for export as a pillar of our petroleum needs.  However, the implication that the Keystone pipeline would primarily intersect with and augment the amount of oil, gas, or petroleum that flows through the nation–in a sort of “petrography” in which pipelines substitute for the waters that nourish the nation–is a convenient fabrication and association, not backed up by the facts.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.01.57 PMNew York Times

 

Lest one ever suppose the pipeline posed a compromise to Energy Policy or practice in the United States, Landrieu used a map prized by Republicans to make an effective case for the introduction of the TransCanada pipeline into the country, an image that had been pointedly designed to help “win the messaging war, as Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina boasted at a recent gathering in Myrtle Beach, by showing existing pipelines across the country–he argued it revealed the dissonance between that “what the President wants you to see” about the pipeline’s dangers stands with existing pipeline used, as “often those two things are divorced in Washington, D.C.”–as if to suggest the distortions perpetuated by government.   Larger distortions are offered in the map, which charts all energy pipelines in the U.S., entirely regardless of what sort of fuel they transport, let alone whether they carry oil or bitumen to a larger market.

 

Commodity-pipelines

 

A two-tone version of the same map of 2012 distinguished the distinct networks of gas and oil pipeline, as a national system, untangles this dense web by distinguishing the overlay between each network of lain pipe.

 

Map oil and gas copy

 

But the largest geographical distortions of such maps however is to minimize where the oil is extracted, if its greatest distortion of benefits is to align the presence of bitumen in the Tar Sands with our national interests.

The network of pipelines misleads since it fails to note the volume of gas, oil or crude to be transported.  The implied argument that it shows “pipelines all over this country that function each and every day without any environmental impact at all” is even more problematic.  While it suggests that energy transport is already so strongly embedded in the infrastructure of the nation that the addition of one more could not change much, the map omits the practices of extraction that would allow this new pipeline to flow, and the costs and dangers implied by laying the pipe to carry so much crude oil across the United States–no extant pipelines indeed carry diluted bitumen, or cross large aquifers as the Keystone XL was planned to do, even if the extent of pipeline coverage reveals coordination between Canadian and U.S. energy corporations already in existence in 2002.

The superimposition of the Keystone pipeline atop a similar map of both offshore and on-land pipelines normalizes the laying of pipeline by placing it within the web of existing coverage, to encourage its acceptance, and removes it from its unique costs–and indeed foregrounds the mass of situated pipelines as an existing network as if it would not be intrusive to existing energy policy.  The greatest magic that the national map works for viewers is to subtract the costs of extracting bitumen up in Alberta.  For as much as we’d like to regard the issue as about America, and American energy independence, it mask the interests actual the transport of oil would actually serve, and the local damages extraction inflicts.  For the pipeline, by a magic turn of hand, relocating oil in a complex overland transfer, would be, it is promised, a form of economic rejuvenation of the old ports of the Gulf, which it would expand as a center for oil exportation.  At a time when Canada’s pipelines are not even full, however, the decision to dramatically expand how much oil we pump across the country, and the diversion of diluted bitumen through the Keystone XL would primarily send new crude from the tar sands so that it could be refined in the Gulf Coast and shipped to all the world–to maximize the volumes Gulf Coast refineries already serve.

In an alternative mapping, that disposes with the iconography of pipelines altogether, the National Resources Defense Council provocatively mapped the dripping of a line viscous dilbit across the central United States. The map instead calls attention to the possibilities for leaks in any section of the pipeline; the leaching of dirty sands for export mapped below leaves the country in a clear visual echo of the disaster of the last Gulf Spill, when crude washed up on the Louisiana coast and so polluted its shores.

 

NRDCNRDC

 

How many potential effects on the environment in Alberta are omitted by tracing only the routes of crude oil transport?  Setting apart the dangers of potential leakages in the extended pipeline, the deep changes that this oddly construed geography of energy extraction are predicated on huge changes to the site where bitumen mining would occur, and large deposits of toxic sludge leaked daily into the Athabasca River harm not only its fish and Alberta’s boreal forest–and expose local residents to considerable carcinogenic risk that mining raises.  Indeed, even if TransCanada pursues, as is expected, a network of railways to export the oil, to take advantage of its abilities to monetize its large supplies of crude, the costs of extracting crude from the sands–as well as the environmental costs of refinement–demand to be considered in this labyrinthine debate. And this is without considering the potential future costs of the leakages on the pipeline, the danger of which has encouraged Oceti Sakowin, the Great Sioux Nation, to gather with Bold Nebraska, and 350.org to respond to what Lakota have seen as a potential “act of war” against the earth.

 

pol_canada11__01__630x420Todd Korol/Reuters

i_N.k9mXQRAMNorm Betts/Bloomberg

 

The map of the projected path of the pipeline into the United States abstracts its costs.  It masks of the curiously inefficient practices of moving extracted viscous deposits of the peanut-butter thick bitumen from Alberta to be transported south in the pipeline.  The process of extraction poses huge environmental degradation to a region located in the boreal forest; extraction releases such greenhouse gas emissions from plumes of smoke so rich in carbon that Canada was forced to withdraw front the 1997 Kyoto Accord to lower standards, finding that its emissions have risen some 17% in the twenty years since the Accord was signed, although the Canadian government has so far strongly resisted adopting a carbon tax to try to discourage the emissions advocated by ShellCanada and Exxon Mobil’s local affiliates.  (The first assessment by the Obama administration withheld opinion about whether the pipeline would worsen climate change, as well.)

But the huge amount of dilbit aimed to be transported would lead to the extraction and release of some 240 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere that would, if it does not remain in the ground, be sufficient to raise the world’s temperature by a full degree.  The costs of such creation of carbon, which would be evident in the risings sea-level and destruction of the shores, are oddly absent from any map of the pipeline’s proposed construction.

The evidence of such emissions are apparent, in part, however, in the environmental effects of carbon emissions and sludge pit creation that have occurred already in Alberta–a place not on several pipeline maps or not visible in detail, although the effects are written on the land.  Such environmental effects are indeed often omitted and rarely represented cartographically, but have been documented in detail in the aerial photos of Louis Helbig, now collected in his book, Beautiful Destruction.  Some of the costs of the environmental catastrophe located in Alberta are revealed in Helbig’s gloriously terrifying aerial photos, which capture the environmental costs of the mining of bitumen and its refining to crude on the local environment, or what is left of a landscape created to produce  345,000 barrels of bitumen per day–one fifth of which would be derived by extracting bitumen from the sands in a version of strip-mining, and have already altered the landscape where oil has begun to be extracted from the Tar Sands.

Even before the oil needs to be extracted from the sand and bitumen, it has to be mined:

 

there-are-two-main-ways-to-extract-oil-from-the-oil-sands-one-way-known-as-open-pit-mining-extracts-the-bitumen-oil-which-is-closer-to-the-surface-of-the-earth-buy-removing-the-soil-above-itLouis Helbig

 

One starts, however, from the clear-cutting of the region to begin the laborious and uneconomical process of extraction, removing all trees, plants, or other vegetation from the ground where bitumen lies–all of which is generically termed by engineers the “overburden”–to start to mine the potentially desired bitumen.

 

the-earth-above-the-bitumen-known-as-overburden-must-be-completely-removed-including-all-trees-plants-or-other-natural-elements-in-order-to-access-the-oil-underneathLouis Helbig

 

this-extraction-method-is-obviously-quite-destructive-luckily-only-20-of-the-oil-in-the-area-can-be-mined-in-this-manner-still-thats-a-lot-of-landLouis Helbig

 

the-earth-above-the-bitumen-known-as-overburden-must-be-completely-removed-including-all-trees-plants-or-other-natural-elements-in-order-to-access-the-oil-underneathLouis Helbig

 

The bulldozing of such earthworks is only the start of a process which occurs after the bitumen is extracted–at the cost of a huge amount of water–and energy–and refined in ways that releases more byproducts of its own in the McMurray Formation, whose large “tar ponds” inflict untold damage–even before the oil enters the planned pipeline–on the surrounding environment, so that it is sacrificed for the goal of oil export.

 

tar-sands

 

Once the bitumen is “refined,” waste-products deadly to wildlife are “stored,” improbably, in outdoor ponds.

 

pools by helbigLouis Helbig

 

All of this is what Senatro Mary Landrieu doesn’t want you to see, but it suggests the costs omitted from a map.  Indeed, these costs are omitted from the web of pipelines and planned expansions across the country, and the new risks raised by creating a pipeline through country where none exists for good reason.

 

keystoneXL-mapThe Progressive Influence

 

Senator Landrieu think she is doing good service to Louisiana by bringing more crude oil to be refined on its shores.  After all, the network of lines submerged off the shore has already created a coast actually crisscrossed by offshore pipelines, as permitted by the aptly named Submerged Lands Act which allows the Federal government to permit running lines on the ocean floor more than three miles offshore, creating the multiple sites of oil extraction like the Deepwater Horizon we all know so well.

 

gulfofmexicopipelines

 

Did the map simply stop serving as an effective tool to envision what energy independence would look like?  Of course, the fight against the pipeline’s construction is by no means over, and will probably be reintroduced in January, when the new Congress reconvenes, in another form.  (Henry Waxman, the lone Democrat on the House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce committee to find it “seriously flawed” will no longer hold a seat as of January, although both Ron Wyden and Barbara Boxer remain “very concerned.”)  But energy independence may look different now to many, with the arrival of new maps of the exploitation of the potential trillions of barrels of oil that are held in shale formations under many regions of the United States, and the considerable potential which many energy companies are no doubt eager to throw money at.

 

Shale Oil Deposits-1.ISSoil_110218.png.cms

 

Even so, it must be remembered that a range of pipelines that promise to deliver tar sands oil across some 10,000 miles that promises to deliver some 3.1 million barrels of crude a day to global markets have already been projected for some time, and may indeed soon arrive.

 

projected pipelines

 

 

Perhaps the most unspoken “map” that still demands a good cartographer to plot out is the amount of monies that TransCanada and other oil and gas industries have filtered to those republican politicians who represent state with the strongest presence of the energy industry, raising questions of where the best forum truly is to pronounce upon the future construction of pipelines at such incredible environmental costs.

While moneys were received in large numbers by Senators of both parties–and especially by Senator Landrieu, the average about of over $660,000 per Senator voting to approve the pipeline–who, over the course of their political careers, have collectively received over $33 million, in a sort of downpayment, with some $4.2 million going to those Democrats voting “nay.”  (Republican supporters of Keystone XL have each received some $662,000 from oil and gas interests.)

AAOG

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Filed under energy independence, Keystone XL, Mapping Canada, mapping pipelines, Tar Sands

Tracing a Shadow Transit System: Subaltern Cartographies?

With Manhattan long ago out pricing many who might have lived there in the past, even as New York City’s Mass Transit Authority does good duty as a serviceable means to secure transportation across the isle, the five boroughs are simply not fully linked to the surrounding extra-urban area residents are pressed to move.  We needed Aaron Reiss to give voice to the less-mapped history of “paratransit-systems” fashioned from a web of dollar vans linking the city’s residents and constitute a central part of its perpetual mobility.  If New York City’s MTA map was a modernist icon of the city that initiated one to a labyrinthine pathways as a right of passage–the long-gone tokens are often worn as necklace, fetish, and a totem of conquering the web of transit–the map showed a preponderance of lines running north and south in Manhattan shortchanged commuters to Queens, and barely served Long Island.

The 1972 modernist remapping lent coherence to the historical layering of a system of subways, organizing its individual lines of the BMT, IRT and IND in a system of streamlined colors so its order seemed intuitively clear.  Designed by the late honorary New Yorker Massimo Vignelli, whose graphical craft would rebrand much of New York City in the early 1970s, so indelible has the iconography become that its subsequent iterations continue to respect the constellation’s symbolic form.  Reiss appropriated the same iconography and symbolic form to move beyond the service in five boroughs and suggest a system which operates where busses and subways just don’t reach, providing a guide to the routes on which large numbers of Manhattanites daily travel to destinations the city’s “public” transit system doesn’t extend or recognize.

 

Out of Manhattan

 

With the apparatus of MTA subway lines left in a ghostly grey that might indicate their supersession, Reiss provides the other map that is perhaps more present to a range of New York’s residents, collating commuter routes across low-income (and often immigrant) neighborhoods that supplement the system of subways run by private companies which offer far more than service to JFK.  Working at lower cost than the system of public transit itself, these lines/shuttles, more often known about through employees and networks rather than from printed or paper maps, to render what Reiss calls “New York’s shadow transportation system,” and which he dignifies with an iconography imitating the elegant minimalism of Vignelli’s classic map.

 

M Vignelli maps subway system_1972

 

Vignelli’s spider-like tracery of pastel lines improbably festooned a grim New York with candy-colored stripes spreads out from the dense knot of Midtown (Central Park is an improbable squat grey, alerting viewers to the map’s distortion and representational remove), a bow of ribbons from which it serves the outer boroughs.

 

Downtown

 

The real story behind the map is the extent to which this vision of the transit system no longer serves the needs of a wide range of commuters, who have attached themselves to a system of public transit hubs to more easily move among the now-geographically-disparate pockets of ethnic communities by lines of dollar-vans, minibuses or limousines, often to reach places on routes of transit the MTA doesn’t offer–from which it has even, Reiss found, withdrawn as service has contracted.  Providing culturally familiar settings of transit for work, links among ethic enclaves, beyond making trips to airports, cash-only van lines permitted by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission continue to serve the working-class underserved, offering an ethnography of immigrant populations in the five boroughs and New Jersey coast and malls in an unofficially improvised response to local needs.  If needs are met in ways that arose from informal networks of drivers and dollar vans, Reiss was, of course, not imagining providing these to their users, but rather tracing a visual ethnography of the improvised economy of urban transit, and a voyeuristic way to look at the emergent economy of dollar vans as if it were an autonomous system of transport of its own, in ways one imagines would not be so happily welcomed or accepted by the majority of its drivers paying customers.

Reiss’s map more to the point shows the degree to which the aging public transit systems of Manhattan and New York City at large has found itself outstripped by the pressing needs of a larger populace.  In ways that reveal the relocation of many immigrants to regions out of the purview or coverage of the existing public transit webs, the improvised sub-economies reflect the city’s shifting social geography, and offers, more than an actual guide to transit, something like a guide to the dispersion of formerly contiguous communities, and indeed often more recognizable (and less costly) modes of travel than the city’s underground subway lines.  With the rise of fares for the subway, and inflexible nature of much of the physical plant of subway lines to keep up with the city’s expansion to outer boroughs, the lines provide quick lines of transit able to keep up with the geographical displacement of communities, as well as more culturally familiar modes of travel.

When you read the maps themselves, think less of an interlocking system, than a mode to link the removed, reflecting the subaltern cultures of transit from Jamaica Center to Long Island and Far Rockaway,

 

Jamaica Center

 

across to work in Eastern New Jersey from the Port Authority,

 

NJ Minibuses

 

 

or among New York’s recent dispersed Chinatowns.

 

 

Linking Chinatowns in NYC

 

 

If Vignelli’s modernist map celebrated the antiquated system of transit was, in turn, widely celebrated for its untangling of the layers of public transit–adding a contemporary sheen to an outdated outfit and enlivening an apparently creaky enterprise–Reiss’s map untangles how communities have spun off the accepted grid.

His map recalls Pakistani-American artist Asma Ahmed Shikoh’s elegant 2006 appropriation of Vignelli’s subway lines to her neighborhood in Brooklyn as a cultural microcosm of the city’s expanse as a whole, converting the iconic map to an Urdu manuscript, the maps create a poetics of presence and reuse of urban space–albeit in ways that stretch beyond the circumscribed range of transit the system provided itself.

ASVanwyck-1

But if Shikoh deftly showed “Vanwyk Blvd” in a new iconography of her own community, returning the map to the tones of an illuminated manuscript to give it a scriptural status, Reiss uses Vignelli’s symbolic form to give graphic form to the process of dramatic disaggregation of the new New York City that a newly improvised system of dollar vans arose to meet.

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Filed under Asma Ahmed Shikoh, low-cost transit, Massimo Vignelli, MTA, New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, public transit maps, subaltern transit webs, transit maps

The State of Surveillance, CA

The ACLU has explored the expansion of crude techniques used by the FBI in mapping American Communities–in a sort of darker side of the illuminating geography of data amassed in the US Census’ American Community Survey.  The geography that the FBI has created is based on preconceptions of which groups might be likely to commit crimes in recent years:  as in a gambit for the foreknowledge Philip K. Dick imagined in the pre cogs who work with police to apprehend criminals before they commit crimes in Minority Report, intelligence gathering has been organized by the FBI in the broadest application of the sort of racial profiling former which Attorney General Eric Holder (quite rightly) strongly opposed, following the 2003 DoJ “Guidance on Race”–yet which he allowed from 2008 for national security and law enforcement reasons.  Holder hesitated to restrict or unmask such activities as an abusive expansion of surveillance over Americans, and allowed the investigation and surveillance of “behaviors” and “lifestyle characteristics,” especially among American Muslim communities from New England to Northern California, to expand dramatically–and including abuse of community outreach programs initiated to build trust.

The extraction and mapping of such racial and ethnic data by the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG).  The sort of crude tools of mapping, in other words, function by a pervasive sense and logic of invasiveness where we are mapped in ways that lack even the logic or ethics one expects from a government service, as government services aim to create a sort of all-seeing eye for mapping populations.  ACLU’s Chris Soghoian has recently disclosed the existence of widespread surveillance program among US Marshalls–including a fleet of airplanes flying from five metropolitan airports dedicated to collecting cell phone data and specially equipped with dirt boxes to do so–since 2007, in ways that parallel the NSA’s programs of surveillance, and are now known to be concentrated s on the Southwestern border of the US by the DEAImmigration and Customs Agency, Homeland Security Agency, and  FBI, suggesting a widespread and almost routine adoption of public surveillance systems by the government across the United States.

 

spyfiles_marqueeACLU

 

Techniques of mapping populations have grown far beyond the modes of mapping US ethnicities, initially pioneered by men like Francis Amasa Walker, in response to a demand for more information than a map can usually provide.  Walker created a record of the nation’s populations from 1873, as Secretary of the Census, whose clear legend offered a way of reading national space in new ways for public ends as well, potentially, for the needs of the government.  The notion of such a map of ethnicity and behavior has of course augmented in detail in order to track individuals’ spatial position over time, as well as to chart patterns of individual behavior.  The compilation of such an exhaustive map of spatial position has grown for reasons of security, but meets a increasing interest in reading maps of local populations at a level of detail and crude classification renders Walker’s tools of tabulating the composition of the population something of a precedent for enlisting new technologies of surveillance used to create the appearance of safety and quell  fears–although the forms of tracking, intelligence gathering, and remote sensing must have created a broad body of map-readers whose charge it is to interpret the massive range of data that is daily culled.

 

alker Legend

 

What has perhaps most radically changed is the intrusiveness with which such data is culled–and the precision of ongoing surveillance that it allows by a proxy army of drones. stingray tracking devices that mimic cell phone towers to capture identifying information, cameras of automatic license plate recognition and scanners of facial recognition systems to create a state of surveillance that we are only beginning to map.

The quantities of data that such tools amass is suggested by a survey of the layers of procuring information across the state, recently issued by the ACLU to draw attention to their amassing of data without public notice, which seems to complement the large-scale infiltration of Muslim communities.  But it goes beyond them, in suggesting a mapping project that monitors daily behaviors and to target individuals by a battery of technologies which abandon and depart from tools of rendering to collate data human minds could not visualize.  These technologies cannot but change how space is experienced–and perceived–even if we lack an image of the results that such surveilling will be able to produce, since the master-map will remain inaccessible to our eyes.

The money directed to intrusive forms of surveillance in the state of California alone has been recently mapped by the ACLU in interactive form to allow comparisons between levels of surveillance that exist in California’s communities and fifty-eight counties, together with both a community guide to resist intrusive surveillance technologies whose use has so dramatically expanded, oriented to different technologies currently used, and its initiation of a statewide campaign against abuses of intelligence gathering that use drones (used in three counties or cities), body cameras (used in thirty-two), tools of facial recognition (used in sixteen) or video surveillance (used in sixty-one–roughly half the number of cities and counties surveyed).

 

Video Surveillance in CA

Highcharts/US Census

 

That’s right, the cost of such surveilling of the state?  Quite a bit over $18 million.

The number of states and counties using Automatic License Plate Recognition, a particularly invasive mode of monitoring populations on the road that comes at only a slightly lower cost, is similarly quite expansive (fifty-seven), suggesting the broad range of areas that are subject to surveillance in California’s largest cities and (interestingly) Central Valley:

 

ALPRE

 

 

Grouping the technologies, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state seems strikingly well covered for less than $50 million of your tax dollars:

 

Grouping the Technologies

 

 

While Facial Recognition techniques are concentrated in mostly in the Southlands, it augurs a particularly invasive form of individual mapping, whose apparent concentration on questions of immigration may be destined to expand with time beyond the sixteen counties and cities where it is used currently.

 

Facial Recognition

 

 

 

Face Recognition--CNN

 

Although we have focussed on the technologies purchased by local police in Ferguson MI, we have done so perhaps ignored the spending spree on body cameras by local authorities across the nation.  Uncovering the considerable expenditure of some $64 million on mapping the whereabouts of potentially suspicious individuals poses a new level of government invasiveness across the state.  The ACLU has even created in response a specially designed checklist for local governments and authorities across the country to consider, before adopting technology that we associate with the NSA.  Such advanced technologies, enlisted as useful without clear oversight practices having evolved or being instituted, or even with public notice being given, have been seem designed to create a comprehensive map that echoes, in microcosm, the state of surveillance we’ve been learning about increasingly this year.  Stingray technologies, able to track a person’s location based on cell-phone signals, are a high-precision level of mapping, already adopted in twelve counties or municipalities including by police in Oakland CA, are increasingly widely used by police throughout the United States in fifteen states, the adoption of which can be tracked interactively, if you are planning on Thanksgiving travels and would like to know.  (And it’s not only the government that is now in the business of using cellular interception technologies for the ends surveilling, we’ve been recently reminded, lest this sort of snooping only be understood as a top-down activity, rather than a widely available software for intercepting unencrypted calls long considered private by means of a radio scanner.)

 

Stingray USe

ACLU invites members and non-members to send a letter, subject line “Don’t Map Me or My Community” to restrict such intelligence-gathering and mapping tools based often on ethnic or racial profiling.  NSA has long been doing this sort of tracking worldwide, but the intrusive mapping of populations across the US has come home to roost.

Surveilling, a backformation dating from the 1960’s from “surveillance,” but has really taken off recently in our public vocabulary, even if it has crested from about 2000, the omniscient folks at Google let us know . . .

 

Surveilling

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Filed under ACLU, mapping surveillance, Tools of Surveillance

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Afterimages of Secession across the United States? (Part III)

Mapping the nation gained wide currency as a way of performing national identity with the rise of the readily printed maps.  Outfits such as the U.S. Election Map Co. that were founded in the mid to late nineteenth century to provide readers a legible record of the nation.  Scribners was fortunate to be able to invest money in their appearance and legibility continued them in works such as the maps of presidential elections in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas in spectacularly modern form– including such maps as the masterful county-by-county survey that clarified results of the highly contested presidential election of 1880, where Republicans and Democrats divided around the contested question of the continuation of Reconstruction.  These images echo the statistical maps that applied the principles Francis Amasa Walker first developed in the 1874 Statistical Atlas to visualize varied spatial distributions from population density to wealth to ethnicities for the U.S. Government–“clothing the dry bones of statistics in flesh and blood,” so that, in Gannett’s words, “their study becomes a delight rather than a task.”

 

Statistical Atlas

 

The volume dedicated to Walker showed itself particularly sensitive to the possibilities of the visual delight of arranging information for viewers in data visualizations, using graphic tools developed with the German immigrant mapmaker Edwin Hergesheimer to wax poetical about the scope of visualize geographic variations as aids by which “not only the statistician and political theorist, but the masses of the people, who make public sentiment and shape public policy, may acquire that knowledge of the country . . . which is essential to intelligent and successful government.”  These sentiments–continuing those of Walker, but announcing the new purview of the info-graphic in a culture where maps had become, in Martin Bruckner‘s words, a new form of performing the nation that built upon increased geographic literacy to narrate national identity but one that extended dramatically beyond the role printed maps played in the eighteenth century.  In the aftermath of Civil War, the body of maps that Gannett and Hewes assembled provided nothing less than a new way to embody the nation in visual form.

Good government was the final endpoint of showing the deep divide in national consensus within the popular vote in his 1883 mapping the geographic distribution as a two-color breakdown or divide, and not suggesting the conundrum that the government must faced–or a sign of the lack of legitimacy of the government, and impossibility of governing well.  In showing a historical survey of not only the “physical features of the country” but “the succession of [political] parties and the ideas for which they existed,” Walker knew that Gannett’s map suggested the different divides revealed, and his pre-Tufteian precept that “simpler methods of illustration are, as a rule, more effective” to summarize and bring together the “leading facts” was done with “care . . . taken to avoid over-elaboration,” so that “by different shades of color, the maps are made to present a bird’s eye view of the various classes of facts, as related to area or population,” including political economy, church membership, mineral deposits, and electoral returns.  The notion that the reification of electoral returns constituted a map provided a new way of envisioning the polity that Walker saw as particularly profitable for mass-readership.  We’re now often the readers of info-graphics of far greater historical poverty, far more used to parse the political electorate of the country in ways that cast the viewer as the spectator to something approaching the naturalization of insurmountable divides.

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

The new flatness of the divide is disquieting, if not false.  The maps in the Scribners’ Statistical Atlas were the product of the adventurous tastes of newspaper and magazine editors who worked with new confidence to reach new numbers of readers, investing in graphics to appeal to a new eye and a new desire to envision the nation, in ways we have only begun to reach in the far flatter visualizations that we distribute online and even in print.  In the lavishly produced periodicals of post-Civil War America, multi-colored maps raised questions about the legibility of a unified national space.  They suggested fragility in the union from the government’s point of view.  But they challenged viewers to find how that unity might be read in a particularly engaging ways–as well as being preserved.

In ways that graphically processed the tabulation of the popular vote that it lay at the reader’s fingertips, the map’s author, Henry Gannet, delved into the question of how clearly the divide between north and south actually mapped out onto the clear enclaves and redoubts of Republican partisanship that are located in Baton Rouge and the South Carolina coast, and much of Virginia and Texas, that challenged the dichotomic division between “northern” and “southern” states.  An antecedent to GIS, in Walker’s designs for the maps, the striking color scheme presented pockets of Democratic resistance with a clarity that made them pop out and immediately strike viewers’ eyes as a way to grasp the political topography of the country in especially modern ways, as if to map the meaning of its Republican consensus.  The map represents the heights of good design that the New York newspaper industry had pioneered after the Civil War, enriched by advertising and graphic design, even if it was designed by the statistician who helmed the United States Census in Washington.  Its pointed argument on the difficulty of taking the electoral map that resulted–shown as an inset–as a reflection of an actual divide raises questions about the current tendency to naturalize “Red” states versus “Blue” states, if it seems devised to answer questions about how the national fabric was rent by opposed divides during Reconstruction.

How the map, very much in the manner of contemporary graphics, came to synthesize political history in legible form by embodying them–Walker’s “flesh and blood”–seem premonitions of contemporary market for info-graphics.  But they were removed from the increasingly unavoidable divides that recent info-graphics suggest but seem designed to perpetuate, or the readily improvised graphics of the short-term that are consumed in made-for-television maps viewed largely in living rooms on television screens.  If the unified color blocks of much data visualization is sadly designed to discourage reading or interpretation, in ways that almost seem destined to limit our political vision for the future of the country, the opportunities that Gannett’s map allows to delve into the palimpsest of the popular vote might help to remove what seem blinders on our shared sense of the political process.  The market for the new info-graphic is quite distinct, and designed not for an Encyclopedia, but created for the short-term–and indeed valued as a short-term image of the contemporary with its own expiry date.

The needs of mapping an image national continuity were quite distinct, and might be profitably historicized in ways that would be foreign from the current market for or demand that info-graphics fill.  For the rationale for creating such a visualization of the popular vote’s distribution, if contemporary to a range of new maps for visualizing and processing the nation, seem to have had pressing value from the Hayes-Tilden contest (as for the contest between Obama and Romney) for the critical explanatory role that we look to info-graphics to try to resolve in order to gain a better picture of the nation.  The resemblance in the divide revealed in info graphics seems far deeper than political partisan allegiance, and the culture of this divide difficult to pinpoint–although the anti-Republican sentiment of the South was fierce in the election of 1880 seems a likely point to begin to map the local resistance to the continued presence of federal troops.

For the notion of a divide between north and south echoes the division redrawn on Wikipedia between slave-states and free states circa 1849, and  enshrined in a latitudinal divide across the southwest of America in the so-called “Missouri Compromise” not only to permit slave-holding in the south, but to prevent its expansion to the north as the country expanded–

 

959px-Missouri_Compromise_Line.svg

Wikipedia Commons

–and seems to continue, almost but only somewhat humorously, in the  confidence with which the ex-KGB operative Igor Panarin in 1998 forecast the future fragmenting of the United States circa 2010 into four Divided States, in a somewhat silly graphic that transposed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the other side of the Atlantic.  Panarin’s image has gained currency as a meme of failed unwelcome futurology, describing the “Texas Republic” whose northern boundary recuperated the same latitudinal divide, and gained a new readership, ironically, among readers of the internet eager for new infographics to compress living history to paradigms, but suggest his own study of nineteenth-century history, as much as futurology:

 

P1-AO116_RUSPRO_NS_20081228191715

 

And it raises questions about how we have begun to use and disseminate maps on the internet to stand as symbolic surrogates of the political divisions about which we’ve become increasingly concerned because of the worries they create about the continued smooth institutional functioning of representational democracy, and of the images we retain of how the popular vote can continue to translate into an effective Congress, rather than one dominated by gridlock.  (The ex-KGB agent’s prediction generated considerable interest in mapping the fracturing of the Republic along analogous regional divides in our own country, as the common practice of remapping cross-pollinated with GIS software and the rise of attention-getting maps.)

 

1.  GIS offers new modes to visualize statistical distributions and modeling national divides in the electorate, often warping actual geographical divides,  symbolically disruptive of Walker’s modes of envisioning the nation’s coherence and unity–and claim an authority of picturing the nation that have come to accentuate its divides.  Indeed, the sharing of two-color projections to forecast the outcome of the 2014 elections was both a cottage industry or diversion, so widespread was interest in adapting tools of forecasting to provide “flesh and blood” for making potentially compelling political predictions by slicing up the nation in different ways.  Often seeming to evade the sort of issues that indeed continue to divide the United States, the widespread currency of such practices often perpetuate the very notion of a chasm of colored blocks as the best visual metaphor for the nation, in ways Walker and Gannett would find a remarkably different notion of a map.

Compelling translation of the popular to the electoral votes invoke the red v. blue divide in particularly graphic terms, and filled with a growth of a number of purple states that make the oppositional divide between Republicans and Democrats much less clean than it once was. (While the Republican party had long assumed the color blue in the nineteenth century, as the party of Lincoln, and blue was used to designate regions voting Republican the newscaster Tim Russert is credited with having first used the color-coding of the electoral choropleth to describe the prominence of the electoral divide in the United States presidential election of 2000 on a single episode of the Today show on October 30, 2000–although he denies having introduced the term as an opposition, and colored maps were long used to depict voter preferences in states.)  Back in the days of the innocence of 2000, the hues took hold to parse the nation with urgency during reporting about the results of that presidential election–and entered common parlance after the conclusion of the fourth presidential election in which the victor failed to win a plurality of the popular vote.

The apparent cleavage of the nation into two regions–more populace blue states with large electoral votes, and many red states with fewer, save Texas and the contested Florida, whose electors may have been erroneously awarded to Bush–and the map of a division of the states into what seemed a red “heartland” and blue periphery expressed a somewhat paradoxical national divide that appeared two different nations–or one nation of continuous red, framed by something of more densely populated blue.

 

Bush v. Gore
The far more broader expanse of a sheet of uniform red, the color specific to the Republican party by 2000, drew a clear dichotomy drawn between Blue States versus Red States, that appeared less an emblem of sovereignty than of a deeply running national divide in a country whose political process had almost lost familiar geographical moorings: the familiar geographic map was warped by the outsized role of certain states in the electorate, and the consequent often disproportionate tussling over winning their electoral votes of “swing states.”

Unlike Henry Gannett’s statistical map, the image of a contiguous region of “Red States” in the above infographic seems to divide the union, as much as offering clues and cues to get one’s mind around a divided electorate. The below cartogram of the 2004 election warps the national territory to reflect the distribution of electoral votes in each state–and the mosaic of victory that the “red” states constituted in total electoral votes revealed several divides in the nation, or the hiving off of the northeast, west, and Great Lakes states from the majority–or, alternatively, the concentration of Democratic votes in dense pockets of urban areas–that reveals two republics, all the more evident from the continuity of the U-shaped red stretch of disquieting uniformity that emerged when the popular votes is translated to a map of electoral votes.

 

3-2004-electoralcollege-cartogram

 

4-2004-by-county

 

We have become especially accustomed to interpreting the contours of such national divides in the electorate with strategic urgency in the age of Obama, although the battle for electoral victory were more likely to be resolved in cartograms than the finely-grained county by county distributions that Gannett had devised. The appeal of cartograms lies in part in how they offered an apparent opportunity to gain clarity by the almost compulsive remapping of electoral votes to decode the alliance of victory in the 2010 election in two-color cartograms: warping the divide to suggest the dissonance of terrestrial continuity with electoral votes or money spent per voter, to suggest both an accentuation of its divides, as if to pose questions about the existence of continuity among the nation’s regions and states, and a deep divide that lay in the areas where campaigns devoted the greatest attention–and ask whether this skewing deriving from distorting electoral stakes bodes well for the democratic process.

The geographical distortions of infographics seem to clarify how electoral results run against the continuity of a terrestrial maps in similar terms. The representation of current electoral division have continued to aggravate the country’s continuity long after Obama’s two presidential elections: both electoral results have been often parsed across the country to explain the divide between red and blue states, especially in the 2012 election, as if to try to discover continuity a country that seems divided into blue states and stretches of bright red: and if, until 2000, both Time magazine and the Washington Post colored Democratic majorities in red, the opposing colors of red and blue have become an image of contested sovereignty, and of articulating regions’ political differences and divides. Rather than suggest generational continuities in political allegiance over space, the divide within the country reads more clearly in Gannett’s county-by-county census, but the proliferation of cartograms respond most effectively to the problem that “these maps lie,” morphing the fifty states into rescaled distributions.

Adam Cole doesn’t claim to argue that this reflects a bit of a crisis in democratic institutions, but one can’t but consider how the current gridlock in government may stem from its failure to adequately reflect the demographics of the country, or at least the economics of the Presidential election.  Despite increasing attention to the mobility of individuals outside “blue” states to other, formerly “red”-state regions, the divide was increasingly focussed on a diminution of red states, but a concentration of Republican majorities in the central regions of the country, lying largely below the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide–with some notable exceptions. Even if much of the country seems happily purple, the intensity of two triads of red states strikes one’s eyes immediately.

 

The United States, with state sized based on electoral votes.Adam Cole/NPR

 

(Such maps, of course, in their interest to provide info graphics that involve “purple” shadings of a mixture of blue and red may not take into account the neurological disposition of the eye to more readily read a purple state surrounded by a sea of red as red, and fail to distinguish the degrees of purple of a region as an intensity not independent from the spectrum of the colors of nearby states:  the interest in providing a more complexly qualified picture of variations in this map, introducing shades of “purple” to a map, if constructive in the abstract, according to Lawrence Weru creates misleading interpretations that rather than profit from such proportional blendings lead the purple region to appeal more blue or more red depending on the chromatic context where it appears.)

 

2.  The compelling nature of such cartograms no doubt the maps that express the views of political parties, and provide a basis for imagining the continuity in how campaigns dedicate attention to the nation. Despite their explicit warping of continuity, cartograms help get one’s mind around the nature of the apparent lack of continuity across the country, and understand the depth of electoral divides and to explain the country’s composition than the mapping of electoral votes onto spatial divisions on a map, if not to project the results in far more dynamic ways of translating the “map” to practices of political representation, as much as territorial manipulation. The cartogram seems to translate spatial divides into a system of political representation that fits imperfectly on a uniform mapped space or rendering of territorial expanse, and seems particularly compelling to analyze the way that the electoral process translates the nation’s geography into institutional terms.

The most telling translation of this political process is revealed in the warping of the nation by disproportionate expenditures per state, reflected by the distortion of electoral politics–and the nature of political divides. Parties have been compelled to devote disproportionate attention to individual states, out of sync with their electoral votes, but as a reflection of the calculus of receiving a majority in the electoral college. A compelling twist to the electoral cartograms parsed political parties’ relative expenditures in the most recent Presidential election as a distribution of funds in dollars spent per voter, grotesquely warping the scale of states in the country according to the political spending in millions of dollars–which keeps a lot of purple states, but suggests that one area of the nation has almost left the attention of either party, as if they were discounted as foregone by both parties–and received but a begrudged smidgen of millions of dollars from the GOP or Republican National Committee, so clearly were their political preferences already decided and minds just made up:

 

bbstates_custom-e0c6c871e5a185100d0be94271fba73c0a365998-s40-c85Adam Cole/NPR

 

An even more warped image of the republic is produced by warping the fifty states to reveal the disproportionate number of dollars spent per voter, in a warping which has the effect of shrinking the red states in much of the south and southwest to reveal the extent to which they are simply less the terrain in which recent elections were determined: one learns even more about the deep commitment of many of the voters in the southern states in the below graphic, reflecting the returns that each campaign had on the amount of money invested locally. The map reveals how little Romney even invested in the solid Republican voting base of the south, not seeing the need to disseminate the candidate’s message in states where he held such a clear advantage that they were conceded by the Democrats: it shows the relative inefficiency of Republican expenditures in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada by an off-message candidate, and the balling amount spent on political media in each state from April 10 to October 10, in which many southern states are all but squeezed out of relevance, because their outcome remained–save North Carolina–something of a fait accompli, and absent from the volley of the barrage of ads that have only recently ended with mid-term elections of 2014:

 

 

bbvoters_custom-0abd0dc8a4efa739c61d80b961226ae07e5b04ec-s40-c85-1

Adam Cole (NPR)/Kantor media data

 

It can’t be “fair” to absent a good portion of the country below a single line of latitude form the state of national political debate that on-air advertisements have to be considered as forming part. What does this mean for our Republic raises questions: but is this a form of secession itself, coming back to haunt the map of political parties’ distributions of their own expenditures? The cartogrammic shrinkage of the southern “red” states with those west of the Mississippi scarily suggests a region of the country has all but vanished from the contested regions of the electoral map, its electoral votes all but written off as a contest, and Texas shrunk to an unsightly narrow peninsula or appendage off the territories where political parties struggle: the geographic contraction of the areas below the thirty seventh parallel, which defines the “four corners” intersection of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico effectively privilege the more urban areas over the “exurban” southern states that were so much less of a contest or struggle for political attention.

The troubling depth of the division across the United States is less a mirror of the affiliation to different political parties, however, than they reflect different images of America that often reflect urban v. exurban perspectives–as in this topographical projection of peaks of population in the lower forty eight.

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

 

Presidential elections offer a major rush of disaggregated data that one can assemble in exciting ways, the inflow of data creates a flood of information that make it difficult to select specific criteria to foreground. One might find in the above sufficient grounds to interpret the growing chasm of political divisions in the nation as between states between those with large urban centers, and “exurban” areas of less density. The tendency to group states which tended to vote or lean Democratic–as New York, California, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota–apart from more exurban or rural areas, and to map the distrust of collective government as lying within exurban areas that lie at a spatial remove from social investments that seem compelling to areas of greater disparities of wealth that define cities–and the distance at which these “red” regions feel themselves as lying from urban areas or issues seem rendered compelling against social density.

 

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

3.  However tempting it is to parse the differences among the electorate’s behavior in the Obama and Romney’s contest as a mirror of deep cultural divides that seem geographically determined, this quite unsatisfactorily poses the question of how likely they can be ever bridged. Such a reinterpretation is compelling precisely because it pays less attention to the “after-image” of secession, and reveals a new political landscape of the nation, rooted in population changes. The divides between the urbanized and unorganized, or “exurban,” also reveal deep attitudes to the nature of national space, and the role of government in space–which this post wants to suggest we examine as an underlying map of voting preferences, but that can’t be revealed by voting preferences and electoral returns.

The differences between voting preferences across the nation lie not only in terms of relative urbanization, but attitudes to the economics of moving through space difficult to quantifiably map, but all to evident on the map. For in ways that define a cultural continuity that is hardly rooted in the physical land, the map embodies a divide, similar to the Gannett map, of the role of government in one’s life, and the presence of the government in economic activities, as well as the prominence of a consensus on social welfare needs.

Parsing the election of 2012 in another way by democratic v. republican gains per county, one might note the  Democratic electoral gains are strikingly concentrated in urban areas, while Republican gains dominate the exurbs that are red–a distinction that clearly correlates to driving practices and willingness to tolerate more highly priced taxes for gas–and the Republican gains group together in clear clusters and runs, predominantly in the inland central southern states and inland northwest.  This data visualization eerily reifies the very divides that Gannett’s almost hundred-and-thirty-year-old visualization of polarized voting preferences first set forth:

 

Net_Change_MapDavid Jarman/Daily Chose

 

What can explain this shift across such a firmly defined latitudinal divide, which seems a crease across the country, as well as a refusal to hamper what is taken as the inalienable right to keep low the cost of free access to take a seat behind the wheel?

 

4. The data used to parse these moderns electoral maps are invested with significance, but may not reveal clear “after-images” of earlier landscapes precisely because the priorities of parties have so dramatically shifted, and the range of issues addressed in the political landscape have left it to be polarized in ways that have far less to do with the polarization over issues such as, say, Reconstruction of the south. Despite the greater amounts of data that presidential elections offer to parse a picture of the country, local legislative institutions provide just as significant a “map” of the traces of autonomy from national standards. The mapping of levels of gas taxes was meant to register the affront of impeding open access to the cheapest mileage. But the map of the distribution of gas taxes in the United States may say much more.

Exxon Mobil’s blogger Ken Cohen boasted that the map “explains a lot”, as a suggests clear division in local variations from the federal gas tax that exist across the country as if to show the inequalities in how local, state, and city taxes collect from forty to sixty cents per gallon–creating an inequality of cost that is itself far beyond the total federal tax imposed of 18.4 cents a gallon, creating unwarranted variations in the costs that drivers payed at the pump across the land able to be examined in greater detail at an interactive version of a map of the United States which displays the relative divisions of taxes by hovering over localities.

The differences in regions’ relative acceptance of gas taxes may indicate less the toleration of government’s invasiveness, but instead a huge shift in attitudes to space extending across exurban areas. The acceptance of a gas tax–or its ‘toleration’–reveals tendencies to reject as invasive the presence of government–and throw into almost topographical relief a considerably deep division within the local legislatures responsible to voters and local opinion. In ways that seems mirrored with surprising clarity in the below distributions of local “toleration” of taxes on gas–a sensitive barometer of regional autonomy, if one hardly comparable to the withdrawal of federal troops–the nation seems starkly divided that reveals difficulties of arriving on national consensus of its own, if on a topic of apparently less dramatic significance. If such taxes can be described as imposed by the government, the tax might be best construed not only on the toleration of taxes, but consensus if not agreement as to its collective benefits of something akin to a value-added tax. Indeed, the political divide in the country seem to have instantiated a divide along roughly the thirty-seventh parallel that reflect distinct national priorities, allowing the American Petroleum Institute to describe the disparities of the taxation on petroleum as if it described an unwarranted degree of government–state or federal–interference in the average American’s access to a full tank of gas.

A surprising divide emerged in this far more simple visualization, whose divides may parse different attitude to the economics of occupying space, based on states’ relative willingness to accept and tolerate taxes on gasoline, as much as chart the unfair nature of differences in how costs are deferred to drivers at the pump. The admittedly interested map makes its point about the uneven national “gas tax burden” along the thirty-seventh parallel, foregrounding a deep divide in refusing the role of local or regional government in daily life. Rather than reflect a distribution of draconian levels of taxation on gas, the map charts consensus to accept levels of an additional gas tax. While it does not perfectly translate into electoral preferences, it reveals a deep divide across the country that seems to fold the populace in ways perhaps not basically political,so much as in the degree to which each state’s populace would accept or suffer additional taxes as a means to meet public needs: it almost seems as if the reluctance to sanction the sort of imposition of taxes at the gas pump was seen as an analogous affront to regional honor.

 

Gas Tax

gas key

 

Thanks to the appearance of a map that first appeared on ExxonMobil’s “Perspectives” blog, we have a useful way to parse the spectrum of the country’s attitude to government–and to the involvement of government in regional differences to the economics of moving through space. For the refusal to raise taxes across the southern states-and indeed the apparent rejection of most anyone with a foot below the thirty-seventh parallel, almost carve the country into two halves, with the exception of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas. It is striking that a cartoon that carves the country, or lower forty-eight, into a map that approximates the polemic division of wealth in the US by which Susan Ohanian assigned that very same region the 90%.  Her map echoes the divide, her cartographic take on the lower 48 assigning the the lower 90% percent of American wage-earners the region lying below the latitudinal divide, echoing the association of the region with a far less developed social infrastructure than either the east or west coast or to the north–only somewhat subliminally and slightly nastily pointing out the shifting per capital income across the land:

WealthMap

 

The divide that perpetuates lower gas taxes–or the “tax burden” on how freely gasoline flows at the pump–maps nicely onto a region with markedly less public transportation and transit.  The very same states’ governors, from New Jersey to to Florida, made something of a pact with the Devil to tank interconnected high-speed rail corridors proposed by President Obama, who championed alternative transit routes early in his presidency in hopes to rebuild a decayed infrastructure. If creating such corridors could have both encouraged local job growth and economic stimulus–as well as setting the basis for future economic growth–the refusal of and Scott Walker, that reflect the largely “exurbanite” populations of red states in exurbs. (Low gas prices serve to compensate for poor transit systems, and work to discourage their use, reducing demand:  only one top-ten rated US transit systems lie in the states–Austin–although a ranking meeting local “transit” is unclear, given that transit needs are by definition locally specific, and difficult to quantify.)  They are now a thing of the past, and Exxon-Mobil seems to turn its sights to the gasoline taxes that might enable their construction in the rest of the country–as if the lack of attention to the public good might be the new norm we could all be so fortunate to possess.

The two-color new flatness of the info-graphic seems complicit in how we perpetuate this view.

 

5.  What appears to perform a regional consensus exists may in fact register the primacy of accessibility to highway driving, or access to ‘automotive freedom’ in a region.  For it seems that the degree to which the individual right to drive through space is accepted as inalienable, or not having any possible contradiction with the public interest, in ways that might have much to do with the tanking of public projects for planned high-speed rail in some coastal corridors, if not an animosity to the project of expanding choices in public transit Obama long ago sought to enact–but whose projected corridors in the south were resisted and never completed.

 

 

high-speed-rail

 

The absence of transit corridors has led to the growth of private taxi-like shuttles for patients in areas where ambulance carriers cover wide areas without clear transit corridors.

 

IMG_0201

 

Did the recent resistance to enacting such corridors of transit help to intensify the sort of divide we can witness in Ken Cohen’s Gas-Tax map? The 2009 Stimulus Package was intended to include a planned Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, designed to change transit’s playing field in the South and Gulf Coast.

 

High_Speed_Rail_07-09-2009

 

Such plans were already, of course, in the works since 2002, in the Bush Administration.  But their defeat, in no small part due to the apparently lesser geographic population density, was encouraged by the perception of a national divide of transit needs.

NA_market_500_miles

 

It prevented greater integration of a North American landbridge in much of the South, to supplement the lack of a crucial lattice of corridors of highway integration.

 

Landbridge

 

6.  We can make inferences about the lack of success of such transit programs, in part thanks to the consolidation of local, state, and federal taxes on gasoline provided by the American Petroleum Institute.  If the map derives from varying forms of taxation passed on at the pump, including local costs of fuel-blending that increase the costs of refining, a national divide to throw into relief of tolerating the imposition of an additional gas tax. While the map does not track the prices in taxes paid at the pump, and the cost for gasoline reveals considerable geographic variation by market and supply, the API plotted the total “fuel-tax burden” in a national map that reveals more about a national latitudinal divide than they had intended: the clear color scheme suggests that the 37th parallel creates a cliff in ‘superadded’ gas costs–and augments the sense of this divide by placing Alaska beside Texas–some fifteen cents below the national average in the U.S.  It mirrors the regions worst served by public transit in the US, to judge by the concentration of workers who relied on public transit for their commutes circa 2008.

 

6a00d83454714d69e20133f2536560970b-800wi

 

The missing information from other maps may suggest a quite grounded rationale for the absence of accepting taxes on gasoline:  not only the reluctance to accept taxes, given the reliance on automotive travel as a primary means of transit and transport, but the absence of a network of public transit that would provide an incentive and rationale for the readiness to accept a tax on gasoline in exchange for other public benefits.

Seen another way, one can link the sense of spatial movement in the region of significantly decreased gas taxation on the rise of a single-driver culture of access to roads, rather than public transit–a trend that Streetsblog found to correlate not only to more restricted and curtailed transport choices, with little but circumstantial basis (and in a pretty cheap shot), to national obesity trends across the nation:

 

map_3

 

7.  Although the flatness of infographics oddly seems to obstruct further inquiry into the distribution it reveals, the differences in how the land is habited suggests divides that are difficult to surmount, and by no means only political in origin.  While it might be seen as leading many to move south for cheaper gas, the consequent lowering of the perceived “fuel-tax burden” to below forty cents per gallon–sometimes by as much as five cents/gallon–across state lines indicates a refusal to let the government interpose themselves between driver and pedal, or pump and tank. It suggests a shifting sense of taxation structures and investment of local priorities of dedicated tax revenue that strikingly mirrors the very regions at the presence of government in local life, but is often tarred as yet another instance of the invasive nature of government’s presence in public life.

The map echoes the more prominent manifestation of local resistance to the apparent federal invasiveness long mandated by the Department of Justice’s “oversight” of enacting changes in local electoral laws, based on historical presence of policies deemed discriminatory, first enacted in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Under the logic of the autonomy of “states’ rights,” such “pre clearance” was abolished, although an  alternative proposal the issue of “pre clearance” was framed as triggered by successive voting rights violations in four states–Texas; Georgia; Louisiana; and Mississippi–rather than fifteen. The VRA’s original provisions, widely deemed “for half a century the most effective protection of minority voting rights,” or fourth article, was approved as recently as 2006 by the US Congress. But widespread resistance to the federal policy grew with keen regional separatism among many of the same “southern” states, or the configuration of the South–minus Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas, with the addition of Arizona and Alaska–who pushed back against oversight of changes to voting laws as redistricting or Voter ID as undue interference as local policies–even as the ability of entrusting states to develop their own policies of redistricting has been recently open to challenge in Mississippi and, in Alabama, for the rigid use of explicitly racial quotas, echoing early charges of partisan gerrymandering in Texas–but raising questions of how much race or partisanship is at stake.

 

Areas Covered by VRA-and additionsAreas Covered by VRA-and additions

 

These coincidence between these maps isn’t entirely coincidental. Indeed, one is struck by the striking “family resemblance” to the infographics we use to represent the nation’s complex composition in a map.

 

8. How much are we overly habituated to visualize a divide that we seem to have a difficulty looking outside its two-color classification?  It bears remark that the afterimage of secession is rehearsed in quite rhetorical manners to raise the specter of national dissolution–by now imprinted on the collective consciousness–if expanded to include a few ‘swing states’ to suggest the recent expansion of the “old South.”

It’s ironic that the iconic image of secession is rehearsed in maps imagining secession from paper currency, which employ strikingly similar visualizations to forecast a coming shift in monetary policy and practice that would be brought by BitCoin. Although its eye-grabbing vision of secession is deceptive, the below “hoax”-map distributes thirty-six cities in twenty states where one can pay bills in Bitcoin as if they were poised to “dump” paper currency, or abandon the US dollar and withdraw from the closest to a common convention to which all fifty states adhere: the map of secession–perhaps based on states that have accepted applications for exchanges in the digital currency that originated on the Deep Web on the TOR browsing network and on hidden sites of illicit exchange as the Silk Road–is of course not an actual map of secession.  But it is designed to pose as a visualization of “the rebellion [in currency] that quickly spread to main street America” with antecedents in a system of currency devised by Thomas Edison, which would immediately provide financial returns as it replaced the dollar, as if it recaptured the past stability of a lost gold standard in the face of the fluctuation of value of American currency.  Lack of internal differentiation in the below of urban and non-urban areas in the below perpetuates an image of legal secession of states that are shown by big monochrome color blocks that seems to prey on viewers’ eyes by its introduction of a familiar dividing line.

The mapping of monetary secession, launched by Money Morning–Your Daily Map to Financial Freedom and diffused to alarm viewers on sites such as http://www.endofamerica.com, is not really explained carefully, and seems to lack its own legend but was intended to depict a collective rejection of paper money as if the “red states” were wise to a growing financial trend. In this barely disguised desparate push for Bitcoin digital currency–“now accepted by dentists in Finland!”–the map stokes fear in paper money, and can’t help both to echo the notion of a dismantling of the United States based on the rejection of a federal currency–echoing a language of states’ rights in its rather preposterous design of a fanciful future national fracturing as some states dispense altogether with paper money: the states divided by the tragedy of the institution of slavery now seem divided by farce. (How maps mislead: California is colored red, due to the fact that one city, Menlo Park, has moved in such a direction, not the entire state–and cities elided with states.)

 

20states-red

 

The afterimage of secession is here, rather improbably, immediately recognizable, but raises a recognizable specter in monetary terms, stoking fears of a new national disillusion that has emerged along sharp lines. One doesn’t usually imagine the digital divide to include the majority of states in the deep South–if in ways that address the viewer who is tried to be wooed to Bitcoin, rather than an offer an image of the nations health. But if the map is a bit of a hoax, the use of something like a secessionary map to depict the rejection of paper money that the U.S. Government has unwisely continued to sanction cannot be much of a coincidence. The cities that push for the ejection of paper money were not by all means concentrated in the southern states, according to the map–which stages a hoax, but one that also reveals the country as broken into two halves by the abandoning of paper money which actually maps the sites of companies that will pay salaries in non-paper Bitcoin.

The recurrence of the very same fold across the nation’s center, roughly along a latitudinal divide to scare viewers–with California added in for good measure, based on the city of Menlo Park.

 

US broken by Bitcoin

 

Although a hoax, the “map” of the impending abandonment of paper currency shows a fracturing of the nation along the lines of the adoption of Bitcoin.  If it echoes the abandonment of the gold standard as a monetary system–or the amount of silver used in dollar coins and actual currency, the map is most striking for breaking down the divisions in the  nation in a state-by-state way that has particular power as it is so often used in political visualizations of electoral returns.  What else might explain the persuasive power of this meme of national division?  The status of Oklahoma, a familiar icon of frontier freedom, shows it has  recently moved to move away from paper currency to accept, with bipartisan support, gold and silver as currency.  The rejection of a common federal paper currency seems the ultimate standard of secession, echoing the dismay at the abandonment of the gold standard or the withdrawal from a cash-based economy.

An eery footnote to this atlas of symbolizing the nation is the proximity with which the map mirrors (or maybe recycles) the Democratic vote in 1880–although it stretches some credibility to imagine the former constellation of seceding states on the cutting edge of accepting Bitcoin.  It is tempting to universalize or essential the latitudinal divide that recurs in these maps, but makes sense to cast the region’s apparent distancing from majoritarian consensus as not only something of a different economic culture, but a different culture of moving through and occupying space.  The confounding of that culture with independence within the states’ rights movement–and deep distrust of federal government–existed long before Obama’s election.

Viewed through special lenses, alert to the after-image of secession, each of the maps define variations in the continuity of a cultural divide phrased as a reaction to the absence of continuity that was registered in Gannett’s earlier 1883 info-graphic–but that now seems to be replayed both as tragedy and a farce.  The question that this set of posts pose, perhaps, is how we can create more engaging info-graphics of the nation whose visual consumption would sustain and drive further attention and exploration of local variations–or at least not reduce us to a stupor of oversimplification that is an excuse for orienting us to the oppositional tactics of political debate through the pretense of showing us the actual lay of the land.  What compelling mapping of local variations might better command attention as a record of divides worthy of our attention?

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Filed under American Petroleum Institute, data visualization, infographics, mapping transit corridors, Tim Russert

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Afterimages of Secession across the United States? (Part II)

The coloration by which Gannett and Lewes delineated the distribution of the polarized Presidential election of 1880 could not help but to display and direct attention to the survival of anti-Republican sentiment across the Southern states, the major obstacle to collective national governance in the post-war years.  The strikingly agonistic geographical distribution of the popular vote provided a datamap and statistical set distinct from the recent national maps arranging of ethnic populations, slave populations, African-American presence, geological surveys, income distributions or population density.  For they inescapably referred to the specific temporality of their own historicity–and to the traumatic historical experience of Secession and Civil War on the nation.  The sort of statistical facts on which they are based chart an afterimage of an acceptance of political consensus, and of the place of Reconstruction in the nation’s political life.

If the maps constituted the nation in powerful new ways by 1860, casting it with new power in terms that stretched from coast to coast or, by 1895, a beauteous landscape “from sea to shining sea,” the map individuated the somewhat troubled nature of the new nation.  The coloration of the each country suggests an image that partly mirror the line of southern secession of eleven states in 1860-1, varied shades of pink, carmine and scarlet distinguishing counties where the vote tended increasingly Democratic, and sky blue, azure and deep blue those tending increasingly Republican, in ways that track the “after-image” of secession, that almost fall along a line of latitude, where the most carmine seem clustered, below Missouri, itself distinguished by several pockets of blue, at the latitudinal parallel 36°30′ forms part of the boundary between Tennessee and Kentucky, but red also extends far northwards, covering an area whose expanse almost obscures the victory of Republican James Garfield’s decisive victory in the face of the “solid South’s attempt to overthrow the Government,” as the Bismark Tribune put it in repairing the election’s results on November 5, with a victory of 213 to 147 electoral votes.

To understand the victory’s scope, however, we must look both at the great intensity of some blues, especially in the new Western territories, and at the telling distribution of the electoral vote map, inset, which suggests that the southern separatism is now contained.

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

Rather than show the archetype of a north-south divide, the map–unlike the inset distribution of the electoral college–reveals pockets of varied intensity, as if to question the definitiveness of a geographic break in the “solid south” to which mappers would return determine challenges to envisioning national unity, and which very recently has returned to haunt the divide of recent data visualizations of the 2014 midterms.  But rather than create a national divide, the 1880 election saw what was, for the period, a decisive result:  “the country is spared the anxiety and uncertain which would have followed an indecisive result,” reported the St. Johnsbury Caledonian in the state of Vermont, “the question of Democratic or Republican supremacy . . . settled at the polls, and the settlement will not be contested,” as it had been in 1876. “No uncertain voice had echoed in the country “from shore to shore,” as if to echo the convergence of the westward expansion of the union and the traumatic closure of the Civil War.

 

No Uncertain VoiceLibrary of Congress

 

The triumph of arriving at consensus was the central take-away from Gannett’s map, as well, rather than the persistence of political division across the land.  The balance between the survival of a clear dividing line and the arrival of consensus is however the central story that underlies the map of the 1880 Popular Vote:  for the continuance geographic break that Gannett’s pioneering statistical map revealed undeniably charted the presence of resistance to Reconstruction–and the trauma of restoration of voting rights and the attempted erasure race-distinction–in the area of seceding states, but unavoidably resonates with today’s polarized political climate for reasons not entirely clear to define, though they seem to respond to the deep level of personal animosity toward the current U.S. President, Barack Obama.  Recent infographics focus on such divisions as a “red surge” across southern states evoking data distributions that parse populations to understand their bases, the projects of the cartographic consolidation of the nation in post-Civil War years celebrated its symbolic unity and conceal the specter of fracture-lines on which current visualizations harp.

The map Gannett devised showed the containment of the memory of Southern secession in ways that affirmed the nation’s unity, and showed a historical depth that our current infographics rarely allow.

 

1.  The local detail of Gannett’s 1883 infographic–its local sensitivity–contrasts with the finality of the on-demand infographics that news outlets readily present to grasp the story of our own divided nation.  For if Gannett’s map seems to register the opening of a divide between regions that cut the United States into two, in the aftermath of the Civil War and Secession, that intimates the infographics that forecast recent American midterm elections, or those repeatedly diffused in subsequent visualizations of the distribution of senate seats, described in part in my previous post, it also celebrates the nation’s continued unity in ways that would inform his career as the “father” of government map making in subsequent years: the project and dynamics of “mapping the nation” was raised in Gannett’s attempt to reconcile the afterimage of the south’s secession with a definitive image the republic’s unity makes it particularly valuable to examine, recoloring the populations of individual counties previously synthesized in the 1863 Lloyd’s Map of the Southern States as the votes of citizens in the larger body of the United States abutting “Indian Territory.”

 

Map of the southern States 1863

 

The map of the divides the Confederate States of America within the continent imprinted a latitudinal divide in the cartographical symbolization of space as it was compiled by the US Government c. 1895, in which broad generalities barely legible spread across regions to designate open expanse (“Northwest,” “Trans-Mississippi,” “Northern”)–concretied into red-line bounded states.

 

Map of America NortheastDetail of “Map of the United States of America showing the boundaries of the Union and Confederate geographical divisions and departments, Dec. 31, 1864.” (1891-1895) (Courtesy Rumsey Associates)

 

legend of boundaries union confederate

 

–though a manuscript map that figured secession, “showing territorial extent of the rebellion in different epochs during the war for its suppression” oscillated around the latitudinal divide, in ways that later maps of the popular vote would implicitly address or come to terms, even while they ostensibly map current events.

 

Map Showing Territories of the Rebellion

 

But the persistence of the latitudinal line, a state boundary that, rather than the Mason-Dixon line, seemed to define the boundary of resisting the end of the legalization of slavery, created the clearest temporal sign of trauma during the hindsight of Reconstruction, when the attempted enforcement of equality and erasure of boundaries based on the construction of race were for the first time addressed, albeit in ways not easily resolved.

Gannett’s datamap colored different percentages of the vote by varied intensity in ways that uncover a historical depth of reluctance to support the program of Reconstruction advocated in the Republicans platform, providing a new way to dive into the local details of the entities that had been described on the surfaces of previous maps, as if to trace an afterimage of the survival of the Confederate States of America.

 

Minolta DSC

 

 

2.  The strange conceptual space of the infographic is just beginning to be examined in ways that place its broad brush-strokes of colors in the context of a new way to imagine the nation.  In part, the consolidation of a mass of data in a graphic artifact replicates the problems of processing overwhelming amounts of data in a  legible form, distilling the shifting population of the nation into terms that can be comprehended at a glance that makes reduced demands on its readers.  It offers little opportunity to examine the “thickness” of these changes, or to try to unpack the surface all too often represented in a clear chromatic divide.

To meet the charge to process dataflows by redistributing them in different visual forms, as if refracting the nation through a glass, the data visualization implies a nation that is always riven by fracture lines.  Such an image was perpetuated by focus groups, demographers, and television commentators, eager to continue discussion about the numbers pollsters parsed from exiting voters, to fill up the drama of the denouement that follows the closing of the polls, but also offer strategic insight into the activities of each campaign–and judge the campaign’s strategic effectiveness in messaging, as much as its message.  The demand of such infographics is to put viewers in charge of a broad range of data that they materialize, blending cvs files into divisions of high-contrast color, materializing by a set of keystrokes a  correlation similar to that which Gannett had earlier labored so hard to achieve in order to give the map a legible form that might best express the results of the 1880 presidential election.

The role infographics offer  to orient viewers to the nation’s divides was felt for the first time in the aftermath of 1880, when the collaging of unity and cartographical consolidation of the mapping of nation raised questions of what divides were readily able to be surpassed.

The question of how current infographics swallow up the local in the regional–or subsume it in the administrative region in which the local is situated–provide a new way to orient one to a political expanse.  Contemporary infographics resist excavation by presenting images that allegedly record objective national divides.  But the far more complicated story about the nation early statistical presents make them particularly compelling.  The very blindness to the past in data visualization claiming to create a snapshot of a present political status quo alone make one turn to these earlier embodiments of the nation’s electorate, both to ask if they are really echoed so strikingly in our own division between “red” and “blue” states–though we now use an inverted color choice, using red to designate Republicans, and not blue as in the map in this post’s header–or what such colors now embody.  The nation is embodied in Gannett’s map for viewers to explore, as if  a palimpsest of the retention of Confederate collective memories.

Despite the insistence of newscasters to present up-to-date images of fractured political preferences, this post seeks to look under info-graphics’ surface, and unpack the image of a divided nation that infographics which the recent Senate elections perpetuate, creating a record of the short-term that ripped from historical context.  For in describing the results as condensations only of the preferences of the American people, info-graphics like those of the 2014 midterm elections offer a deeply impoverished sense of their historical background.  Using the format of the map to increase the symbolic divisions of the nation as if to naturalize the varied rifts they allegedly expose, trying to convince their viewers of their relevance–divides embodied in far more complex and nuanced ways in earlier statistical maps.

Denis Wood has suggested that the historical lifespan of the map lasts but five to six hundred years, and that the function of the map to embody the state may have already been eclipsed by our current fixation to use GIS to materialize conceptual objects we otherwise lack the terms to discuss.  Wood meant that the power of embodying the state–or the link of the map to the state–has changed in ways that have since eroded.  But the persuasive power of older maps provide to parse the country haunts data visualizations in interesting ways, as their own echoes of the unity and coherence of the nation reappear in them, even if they sere as less persuasive forms of embodiment.  The function of symbolizing the coherence of the nation informs Gannett’s mapping of the popular vote, even as it offers new forms of embodying the nation that depart, for one of the first times, from a record of its physical geography or landmarks.  While an antecedent to the bleached nature of info-graphics, where panels of colors replace a palpable nation, they tease us with the notion of embodiment, using the map to describe the fragmentation that afflicts our political system in ways that are both far less easy to read and less satisfying as texts–and frustrating as intentionally incomplete images.

Blindness toward the past that is so characteristic of most infographics spurs one to investigate the resonant divides of the earliest data maps of the breakdown of the Presidential vote of 1880–a map made at the culmination of the creation of exact statistical maps designed that created legible records designed to persuade viewers of the nation’s continued unity.  This statistical survey charted the distribution of the popular vote with exquisite care in the wake of a polarizing break in the electorate among the issue of Reconstruction in those post-Civil War years.  Gannett, then Supervisor of the U.S. Census, realized the historical import of the electoral data as a way to create something of a composite portrait of the nation–following the Francis Amasa Walker’s detailed distributions of the country’s population and racial composition–with the realization of the benefits that the vote could be graphically tabulated in ways that would break down along similar divides.  The result was not one he might have thought would both so stubbornly persist or be accepted as an unchangeable fact–and be naturalized as part of the nation–but provided a complex afterimage of the reactions to Reconstruction across the South.

If Gannett mapped the popular vote’s distribution to suggest the diminishing of the after-image of secession in many Southern states, the notion of political polarization that has seized the media and political coverage exploit the ways that maps constitute an image of the nation’s coherence in potentially pernicious ways, by painting a politics of division, rather than consensus, that prey on the anxiety of intractable differences and evoke specters of a divided country that echo how the country was embodied in earlier maps.  But the recent decline of the power of maps in how we symbolize the nation or understand it makes info-graphics weak afterimages of the divides that were, in the past, so deeply felt.

 

3.  The accuracy with which county-by-county data allowed Henry Gannett to parse the polarization of voting patterns across the United States helped visualize lingering divides betwixt northern and southern states.  The divide  told a story of the weight with which the recent historical past sharply divided into two hues, opening local variations for the viewer to explore that have expanded far beyond what Gannet’s original scope may have been:   for to modern eyes, Gannett’s visualization revealed an afterimage of resistance to Reconstruction across the reputedly gracious South–one which should not demonize the region, but raise questions about the persistence of economic inequalities and inequalities of citizenship and education that Reconstruction partly sought to remediate.

The effect of mapping is less of performing a history of a nation, in the manner of most printed maps of the nation that were posted in public places and classrooms of nineteenth-century America,  than of opening a breach that not only haunts the nation today, and mapping a scar which almost irrevocably threatens to disrupt the continuity of our political space.  Gannett’s maps make us ask about the ability of mapping as a way of telling a story about the persistence of memories across the land as registered in the genre of info-graphics, in order, a bit perversely, to interrogate the extreme superficiality of most info-graphics’ historical depth.  Mapping the popular vote in 1880 framed both the memory of the trauma not of the South’s defeat, but of resistance to Reconstruction within the Republican party’s platform–and a hope to surpass a political divide of opposition–by producing an image of national consensus to which many urbanized areas of the South contributed, rather than reflecting the continuation of Southern separatism across the land.

In ways that predate the post-Tufteian elimination of “chart-junk” and elegance of graphical economy of tools of data visualization, Gannett insisted in modern ways on the primacy of the visual as a means of displaying and grasping the deep divide across the nation that the aftermath of Southern secession had wrought, and had recently played out at the ballot box.  Unintentionally, however, the deepest aftereffects that his complexional map reveal among counties across the growing United States was to delineate a divide whose afterimage continues to haunt our current political economy in ways we have not fully understood.  For Gannett’s early elegant visualization  is a telling snapshot of the lines of difference that continue to haunt the practice of representative democracy in the purportedly United States, as well as a model of facing the disparities in voting preferences that data visualizations can best hope to record.  The degree of current tacit acceptance or naturalization of this divide among the recent midterm Senate races is particularly troubling, because it suggests a tendency to allow it to persist.

Gannet took advantage of the increasingly better tabulation of the popular vote to chart its distribution with attentive care through shades of coloring provide one of the first attempts to geographically define the distribution of the vote–and measure the persistence of a deeply-runing divide.  Although less based on polls that would forecast the election or tools of current events, than a historical map of a significant election, the map raised questions about the future unity of the country for readers in pointed ways.  To be sure, Gannett’s map offered less a snapshot of an ever-receding past, of course, than a record of the steep demands to heal the divided Republic, but it is something that we can’t but regard with a twinge of recognition:   his map of the break within the 1880 popular vote traced a crisp “after-image” of the secession of Southern states, providing a counterpoint to secession, if its afterimages also haunts how the electorate divides today.

Gannett’s inset map visually translated the popular vote’s distribution to electoral votes.  The result was particularly striking, and engaged the increasing role that maps gained in the later nineteenth century as tools and symbols that embody the coherence of the nation.  It perform a story or narrative of national unity that contrasted with the division of the popular vote, and seemed to explain the representational institutions of the Presidential election.  If the symbolic disruption of  national unity was the shocker of Gannett’s map, it also traced a specter similar to that which we face in confronting and trying to mine information from info-graphics of the distribution of voting preferences across the United States in the previous weeks.  The very power of the story of national unity that maps had come to perform in public spaces threatened to unravel, dislodge, or be shaken in ways that the possibility of a post-Civil War fragmentation demanded viewers to confront–but that, sadly, also persist today in ways that pose steep national challenges.

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625

 

Gannett would surely have been quite surprised to know how the afterimage he traced continued to haunt the electorate almost a century and a half after the fact.  But he would surely have been pleased to note that the breakdown of the vote he statistically mapped continued to offer a point of reference to understand and apprehend the legibility of the historical persistence of the split in the nation’s politics he measured.

For Gannett’s map is striking; historian Susan Schulten perceptively realized it’s import as a precursor to our own interest in how info-graphics offer an image of national divides that might be overcome–or might haunt us.  In an age when and the dangers of the loss of the VRA have created something of a crisis in voting protections, and at a time when census blocks comprising  75% or more people of color are clustered in contiguous blocks to minimize their electoral presence and impact, the sense of a trust in an image of the nation seems especially important.  The transparency with which Gannett rendered the national divide of the 1880 election is indeed haunting, not because of the ingrained nature of political preferences or the lower geographic mobility in a region over a hundred and thirty five years, but the problems of embodying political representation the map of the 1880 Popular Vote itself records.

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

To be sure, the divides in current maps do not clearly reflect the clear carmine pockets of red of anti-Republican opposition.  But the steep economic inequalities underly the relevance with which Gannett’s 1880 map continues to embody breakages of national unity.  A map of Gini coefficients of income distributions in the United States today reflects in the distribution of persistent income inequalities, to be sure, a divide that is reinforced by low median incomes, populations living below the poverty line and low levels of education:

 

gini-us-by-county

 

This map of 2000-2004 dates from a decade ago, but itself preserves an odd eery afterimage of the divide Gannett already mapped, and which is only partly continued in a mapping of the number of “active hate groups” that the Southern Poverty Law center found in 2013 persisted below the latitudinal divide of 36°30′–despite the over one thousand active such groups found in the country.

 

Hate Map spL

HateMap2007

 

If the divide in the map between North and South suggest a political polarization we thought only existed in recent time, the rejection of most southern counties to vote Republican–and participate in the project of Reconstruction–is oddly echoed in the refusal to raise local taxes on gasoline consumption as my last post suggested.  (This contrasts to the more vague Twitter map of hatred, which suggests a more angry nation–

 

hate2

 

–but reflects the actual manifestation of institutional acceptance for asocial virulence.)

A 2004 map using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center charted the density of the distribution of such groups however reveals a distinct weighting to the Deep South:

 

Hate Group Denisty

 

And in the confetti of antipathy that cluttered in specific cities, in another visualization from the Southern Poverty Group, a cluttering centers in the Deep South.

 

Hate Groups in Cities

 

The widespread confetti of hate-groups distributed in 2004 across the nation lay across the nation’s cities; but when read against regions of such groups’ specific local and regional densities, it, strikingly, clearly continues to privilege the very same trapezoidal structure lying below the latitudinal divide.

 

us_map

 

4.  Gannett’s 1883 map celebrated the refusal of the South to successfully secede from the Republic–and to obstruct the election of a single President–the divide it documents records the deep scar lines that existed in the country for several presidential terms after Lincoln’s death.  It testified to the deep hope in how statistical maps would provide a new image of a united nation.

More than measure or encode territory, Gannett distributed electoral data in ways that help us judge or measure our own distance and temporal remove from it, and, as it were, orient one’s sense of bearings on the divides of national unity it reflected, as well as divides in political preferences that the recent proliferation of infographics that parse “red” and “blue” states with different signifiers attached to each.  This raises questions about the continued embrace of a divide along lines of Secession as a future model of politics increasingly naturalized in our national landscape.  Contemporary national maps with which Gannett’s must be contextualized emphasize the performance of the nation’s symbolic unity unlike many earlier maps, and reveal the possibilities of printing maps for a large audience of readers and students, many of whom would read the map not only as a way to orient themselves to the nation but to naturalize the composition of the continental span of the United States’ continental expanse.

 

B3HmuB2IcAAy8Kt

 

In the wake of the 1880 election, Gannett created a conscious self-portrait of the nation for the Scribners encyclopedia of statistical maps that uncoincidentally sought to measure and explicate the possibilities of coherence that the election revealed, allowing the data to speak to readers at an unprecedented county-by-county granularity that exploited the new currency of the publicly displayed map as an image of the nation.  The Gannett map’s division of the country into counties reflects those images increasingly publicly displayed for didactic and pedagogic ends in schools, offices, train stations, and city halls replete with topographic signs and transportation routes–although it was evacuated of them, and replaced them with a tally of the vote to map  a symbolic digest of political institutions rather than a guide for spatial travel–disrupting a symbolic form of national unity that prominently featured in the typical rural schoolroom circa 1873, if one can trust the Universal Exhibition held that year in Vienna–though the display of worldliness was partly designed, no doubt, to impress continental viewers by such conspicuous placement of emblems of geographic instruction.

 

School-room-Vienna

 

Indeed, the shift in consuming maps after the civil war–when newspaper readers had tracked the progress of Union armies across the south, read and commemorated different battles, and received correspondences from loved ones in a landscape destroyed by war would have  rendered even the divided electoral map that Gannett drew deeply pacified, and a tacit agreement to resolve the distribution of dissent by other means.  Gannett indeed seems to have mapped such a divide between northern and southern states in its county-by-county distribution in ways that reflect the dramatically increasing literacy in maps as distributions of the national vote:  for it showed pockets of Republican voting in the southern cities during Reconstruction in considerable detail, to be sure, but also suggested a national divide that could still be preserved, if not to create the unity of the United States preserved in national maps like that of Augustus Mitchell, showing the regions beyond the Mississippi the Union created in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Utah in an attempt to enlarge by legislative fiat the number of non-seceding states.

 

mitchus61

 

The divide would continue to persist, of course, long after the 1880 election.  In ways viewers would readily detect, the 1883 map revealed the cultural memory of collective affront at the continued presence of federal troops to ensure Reconstruction, beyond a simple record of spatial relationships–an issue that had already led to the passage in 1878 of the Posse Comitatus Act, designed to prohibit armed forces from acting as a police force inside the country–but where the army’s role in enforcing civil rights clearly remained contentious.  Gannett’s map revealed an oppositional divide in the electoral distribution which seems eerily familiar to our own political division–it renders the extent of a  story of the affront perceived across the southern states far more dynamically textured than the rather generic templates of much contemporary digital map design.  in ways displaced from its original intent of describing the translation of the distribution of the vote it delineated a clear reluctance to support a Republican platform across the southern states.

 

5.  The striking echo of widespread reluctance to adopt the Republican platform of Reconstruction informs the divide between gasoline taxation across of the country that was popularized on the blog disseminated by folks at Exxon-Mobil to suggest reasons for gas’s uneven price.  For all its insistence on an uneven distribution of taxes, the uneven distribution it reveals, hardly evidence of serious financial duress, has gained traction as an icon of tax disparity.

Can one also sense a historical basis for its apparent inequalities that demands historical excavation?  The divide in the popular vote’s distribution Gannett revealed in the 1880 presidential vote reflected historically specific political responses to Reconstruction.  But its divide is nonetheless interestingly echoed in a quite contemporary map as a way to document in detail the disparity in taxes on the price of gasoline.  For the Gas-Tax Divide, if generic in its features, seems inhabited by national divides of over a century ago.  If the American Petroleum Institute intended to depict local resistance to impeding access to fill one’s tank at the lowest possible cost, and document the local variations in the price of gas that were instituted by local tax policies, the latitudinal division  reflects the priorities of individual counties, far more than an artifact of the surveying of the boundary lines of States, and mapped less an image of separate sovereignty than a  suspicion of curbs on unfettered consumption of gas below the 37th parallel.

 

Gas Tax

 

 

The light ochre monolith below the latitudinal divide?  If it echoes the distribution of the Popular Vote in Gannett’s map of the 1880 election, and falls along a clear line of latitude, the break offers an unclear a record of political affiliations.

 

6.  The conceit of dividing “red” states from “blue” states both in recent parsing of senatorial races and in the tabulation of Presidential races–and even in the colors Gannett employed to distinguish the divides among electoral preferences in reversed form–crystallized in new ways during the aftermath of the election of 2000.  Whereas Gannet, adopting the colors of the American flag, connoted not just opposite ends of the spectrum, but the coherence of the nation, the connotation of fragmentation and opposition was invested in the bicolor map when “blue” was cast as the color of liberalism during the reporting of results of the 2000 American presidential election.   The choice of “blue” as the color-choice to designate the Democratic party was not only decided by the NBC graphics department–David Letterman famously gave broad currency to the notion of such an opposition when he tried to resolve heightened anxiety at the uncertain results of the election when he somewhat Solomonically (in hindsight, optimistically) suggested that the US Congress “make George W. Bush president of the red states and Al Gore head of the blue ones.”

The history of divides between “Red” states and “Blue” states perhaps respond to a need for meaning our chorographic collective, as much as they essentialize the attributes of any region or location as distinct.  But they tellingly employ the patriotic hues from the primary colors–red and blue–not only to visualize  either end of the spectrum, but to suggest the continued coherence of the data visualization in a map.  There is less intensity strong enough to generate such perceptual after-images in a map, or presume after-images might be expected to exist, given the shifting political landscape of polarization, which suggest something like a search for narratives of differences that is mediated through political institutions process a political space.

For Gannett, the choice of hues employed to elucidate the bitterly contested election rendered the abstraction of party affiliation at a time that the divide between platforms  around the Republican platform of retaining the federal military in the southern states during Reconstruction, creating a fierce anti-Republican divide across the South who voted strongly Democratic as a result.

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

The analogy between electoral divides across such spreads of time suggests moments of alternate embodiments of the nation.

 

7.  All maps tell complex stories about continuities in a national landscape that the individual map rarely explicitly describes, but which are often suddenly apprehended with a shock of recognition as the familiarity of their distribution embody seems so eerily familiar.  Although we look at the matter of maps as temporally removed, rather than remaining rooted in an inaccessible past, the landscapes maps create can throw into relief the actual divides that they seek to describe in accessible ways.  Even as artifacts of striking authorship, maps offer templates by which to trace trajectories in space that, rather than being inherently bound to the region they describe, and might be read as revealing a collective regional cultural memory or unconscious.   Reading such maps for “afterimages” offers points of comparison and departure for decoding the spatial distributions and divisions later maps chart–offering indispensable points of reference and comparison to read meaning into later maps, as well as a basis for interpreting their terrain.

The levels of non-physical topographical markers and divides in current maps such as that of gas tax levels in the United States, moreover demand a degree of historical depth to remove them from the admittedly polemical roles that groups as the American Petroleum Institute may have intended.  For in registering distinct landscapes of populations, even after a century, north-south cultural divides emerge, mapped in the below distribution between “red” and “blue” counties that Gannett sketched that eerily mirror our own attraction to mapping red and blue states that dramatize the divide in far more elegantly muted hues, but whose statistical basis seems eerily familiar as a synthesis of a gaping divide that challenges its viewers to wonder how that divide might ever be bridged.

Gannett sought to refine existing cartographical techniques and lithographic tools of representation to define the historical distributions of local populations and ethnicities over time in the United States in elegantly artistic if didactic ways, coloring regions in ways that blend aesthetics and cartographical to frame a complex narrative that measure the intangibles of national unity from the data available on its inhabitants.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the story implicit in his mapping of the political divide that was inherited from the Civil War resonates not only with present distributions of lower taxes on petroleum in compelling ways, but offers evidence of a continuity in problems of concluding a national consensus that continue a century later:   Gannett elegantly converted the data of the presidential election of 1880 in a particularly appealing way designed to forge unity by capturing its divides in the delicate balance of color-schemes on a map’s face, and created a striking image that seems to haunt shifting attitudes to accepting a tax on gas from which it stands at a remove of almost a century-and-a-half.

By examining disparities among political preference for parties at an unprecedented visualizations of variations across the country of considerably fine grain for the 1883 Scribners’ Encyclopedia, Gannett clearly mapped a strikingly stark political polarization in the United States which bore deep scars of civil war.  It has gained attention for its eerily familiar family resemblance of mapping the current gulf between red and blue states, and for the contested narrative it seeks to resolve as well as inventively retell and recapitulate.  In ways that have continued to sculpt a political landscape of the new century, and the elections of 2004 and 2008, the elegantly synthetic two-color info-graphic that Gannett devised imaged the continued divisions of the country as a form of political consensus, if of a fairly fragile sort we turn to maps to recreate across space.

 

8.  In the wake of the secession of Southern states from the Union, statistical visualizations of the states served to explain the distribution of electoral votes as a decisive factor in the designs of printed maps of the country  to render the dissonance among the geographic size of regions respectively won by Republican Tilden and Democrat Hayes, Susan Schulten observed, in an omen for the nation’s centenary:  deep distrust over the continued presence of federal troops in the south to enforce Reconstruction Republicans advocated is registered in the anti-Republican vote across the south.  The division in the popular vote was troubling in 1876, because Tilden’s majority was preserved in the electoral college–in ways that led engravers as Henry Clay Donnell, Henry Kowalski, and Charles S. Israel to devise for the U.S. Election Map Co. an image that mapped the electoral college across presidential elections as states were mapped from 1789 to 1876, in parallel to Gannett’s own efforts, in a nineteenth-century version of Sparks’ minute-long video:

 

ElectoralCollege1789-1876

 

The chronological sequence of maps of the voting distributions over the first twenty-three presidential elections responded to growing interest in the wake of the divisive election in which the US Congress overturned the popular vote to historicize the apportionment of electoral votes and voting results, revealing a recent statistical familiarity with tabulating results that was perhaps particularly pronounced by 1880.  Such a sequence sought to affirm the consensus arrived between different regions, in order to process the political shifts of the expanding nation in cartographical terms.

The cartographical sequence of electoral apportionment is an argument for the nature of representational democracy, and a historical reaffirmation of  the institution of the electoral college, as much as a digest of past presidential elections.  After Republicans had cast themselves as the party of saving the union in 1876, Census Superintendent Gannett devised the idea of a detailed county-by-county account of the distribution of the national popular vote of 1880 whose publication was designed to overcome a vision of division by showing the local depth of Democratic votes for the Republican candidate, Garfield, that made his victory–as narrow as that of his predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, which had been only resolved by the electoral college–a form of crafting consensus and affirming the electoral system as well as well as a persuasive statistical synthesis of big data, on of the first of continued efforts to pioneer statistical geography he devised to chart and affirm the nation’s continuity as much as document a national divide.

In the above expansion of the tools and techniques Gannett used in the 1883 Statistical Atlas of the United States, Donell, Kowalski, and Israel mobilized the forms of maps created a visual record of how counties leaned Democratic and Republican across the nation that its viewers could readily interpret and analyze, defining an electoral divides to describe not only spatial relationships in a fixed distribution, but embodied distinct voting preferences across counties by differently hued shades of blue and red to represent the entire electorate and election’s outcome–in something of a precedent to Sparks’ compelling animated video of the shifting political divides between the electorate which have only recently crystallized into a firm red v blue divide.

By tabulating the vote in spatial terms, Gannett achieved a  sense of continuity and regional identity that has continued significance in the after-image it creates of war.  By defining local variations as if they themselves constituted an actual terrain–employing a recognized geographic apparatus to describe the processes of representative government–he quite compellingly register deep divides that still starkly divide the nation a decade after the Civil War, even if off of the battlefield.  He would have been impressed by the continued reluctance of a similar region to refuse the imposition of local gasoline taxes, and by the continued resilience of the opposition revealed in his own earlier info-graphic to have gained such rhetorical prominence during the Obama’s two presidential campaigns.

 

9.  Gannett resolved an astounding geographic specificity to chart the legitimacy of Garfield’s victory after a bitterly contested election in 1876, when the electoral vote had in the end famously revised the outcome of the popular vote.  For Tilden could claim a majority of the popular vote, but the pro-business New York Governor had lost the electoral college.   That election’s results had been sent to Congress, where a 15-member Electoral Commission sought to determine the validity of the contested popular vote and its translation into electoral counts and gave the victory to Hayes in the Compromise of 1877–or Corrupt Bargain–which ended the federal involvement in local southern elections during Reconstruction by the Republican party, and, despite Tilden’s victory in the 1876 popular vote over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, modified the Republican platform for federal supervision of the civil reforms that would be part of Reconstruction.  Despite Hayes’ previous strong support of protecting the civil rights of newly freed slaves in the south, he continued his earlier promise that the Southern states to no longer be occupied by US federal troops to enforce civil rights in his administration but rather, as Hayes put it, enjoy “the blessings of honest and capable local government,” despite the clear continuation of measures explicitly designed to obstruct universal suffrage from poll taxes to intimidation.

The presence of federal troops across the south had been rejected in the Southern vote, and as part of the compromise that guaranteed Hayes’ victory, the Republican allowed Southern autonomy, gaining the misreported electoral votes of southern states in order to capsize Tilden’s majority vote, given his broad support not only in the Northeast, midwest, and West, but the most populated regions of the south, including along the Mississippi and Carolina coast.

 

 

Election of 1876

 

VHE_Campaigns_IL.2012.2.18.2_front_medium

 

Tilden’s over-ready acquiescence to the electoral configuration after Hayes’ challenged the electors from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana–in spite his having gained a plurality of the popular vote by the then-quite-considerable margin of over 300,000 votes–sadly sealed the end of his political career.  But the heavily contested nature of the election, and, no doubt, the difficulty of the narrative that it posed about the nation, also mandated the more detailed county-by-county remapping of the election of 1880–and which the modern reproduction of a county-by-county count revisits to show the limited votes for Tilden across Southern states.

 

1876

 

In the face of the building bitterness of the Southern states over the program of Reconstruction Republicans had advocated in their platform, Rutherford B. Hayes had earlier promised for the Southern states to no longer be occupied by US federal troops to enforce civil rights, but to rather, as Hayes put it himself, enjoy “the blessings of honest and capable local government,” despite the clear continuation of multiple measures that were explicitly designed to obstruct a universal franchise across the South and southern states–from poll taxes to intimidation, helped him reach significant support across South Carolina and along the Mississippi, often from newly enfranchised voters, although the majority of southerners had voted against Hayes.  The Gannett projection avoided the drawn-out sense of political stalemate that had haunted the 1876 election and its injury to a democratic process.

 

election-cartoon-1876-granger

 

The stinging victory of the Republican left considerable bitterness of dissatisfaction in the outcome for the Democratic party, however, in the face of much suppression of the vote, and deep scars across the land that the election of 1880 did not erase.  The relative independence of what often appears as a distinct enclave in the south did not only depend on the memory of the Civil War, often framed as resistance to Reconstruction.  Even as the presence of federal troops across the south had been rejected, as part of the compromise that guaranteed Hayes’ victory, in ways that the Voting Rights Act would replace by the oversight of the Dept. of Justice on changes to voting practices in order to ensure greater national uniformity of access to the ballot box.  The image of the rejection of Reconstruction, refusing the incursions of armed forces to teach a culture of equality, echoed in the reversal of returning federal troops to ensure the integration of Little Rock Central High School or Representative John Lewis’ vigorous call for martial law in Ferguson, Missouri after the tragic shooting of the 18 year old Michael Brown, and a similar need to federalize the Missouri National Guard “to fight the fires of frustration and discontent” across America–and the federalization of the national guard in Montgomery, Alabama during civil rights struggles of the early 1960s that Lewis knows so well.  (The recent expansion of a “no-fly zone” over Ferguson that was approved by the FAA to contain media coverage by creating a blanket of some thirty-seven square miles seemed to exclude police actions from public media attention, and subtract it from news coverage–a troubling violation of the First Amendment rights–was designed to subtract the police’s relation to protesters in the St. Louis suburb from national debate.

The local response to the riots in Ferguson suggest a militia-style intervention in the demonstrations that attracted uncomprehending and aghast global coverage.  Indeed, the local expenditure in the St. Louis county police to replenish their stock of needed “civil disobedience equipment”–including riot helmets and related gear, tear gas, pepper balls, plastic handcuffs and grenades–has approached $175,000 since the reaction to the riots following Michael Brown’s killing by local police, including “LiveX” brand pepper balls that boast themselves to be ten times hotter.  Amnesty International  recently noted the danger of “Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable rather than possible, escalating tensions between protesters and police.”

 

10.  The results of the 1876 popular vote  belied their geographic distribution in ways that are visible in the above recreation, where the majority of the land seems colored Yellow, and created new challenges for .  As a result, Gannett sought to educate viewers in the translation of the vote to electors, and no doubt to conclusively persuade of the decisiveness of the bitterly contested presidential election, by documenting the extent to which, despite the strength of anti-Republican sentiment throughout the south left, Garfield conclusively won the presidency.  Gannett’s map, while registering the suppression of African American vote in much of the south, responded to a pressing problem of the need to map the nation’s continued unity within the popular vote–as much as register its political divide around those pockets that revealed clear clusters of Republican votes in this reconstruction for schoolroom teaching about the distribution of the vote from 1932 that provided the regional breakdown within states that Gannett’s statistical mapping would allow on a county by county level.

Gannett’s visual explanation of mapped the distribution of the popular vote into electoral votes, tracing the complex distribution of pockets of counties of voting, and transferring the distribution of the popular vote to the electoral votes far more effectively than the less refined or elegant distributions that were engraved of the country to explain the outcome of the vote in 1876–when the matter had, after all, been resolved by committee–after two alternative sets of electoral returns were submitted by the southern states of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, in ways that left the outcome of the election in balance–and demanding a greater proof of electoral returns in 1880–even if the cartoonist Thomas Nast had used the electoral map to predict the Republicans would carry the nation from California to Maine.

67574_188_elec22_lg

 

A far more variegated map of the distribution of votes was required to tell the story of Republican victory for James Garfield that was understood across the nation as a referendum on Reconstruction–partly explaining the fear that the vote would result in a division of the country that replayed a secessionist divide of the Missouri Compromise.   The story was particularly complicated of how the Republicans continued to carry the nation, but demanded, by 1883, the results of the 1880 election to be commemorated by a far more detailed map for viewers to scrutinize.  The zones of deepest carmine red in counties in Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, and South Carolina create a canvas of deep distrust and map something of a dissonance in the nation in reaction to policies of Reconstruction and an agitation for strongest shifts in sovereignty.  The multicolored map allowed one to read the balance of popular and electoral votes in the country, and was clearly prepared for an audience eager to visualize the continued integrity of the Republic and construe relations between popular and electoral votes, reflect on operations of political sovereignty, and, indeed, to try to visualize and fashion consensus from the contentious elections results in peaceful fashion, where dense pockets of republicanism across the south, particularly along the Mississippi and around New Orleans, as well as South Carolina, seem to testify to the presence of the votes of enfranchised former slaves.

 

Continuous Crimson

 

The electoral division turned on the issue of the continued autonomy of the South, and effectively continued the dispute of the Civil War off the battlefield:  the north-south divide migrated from the battlefields to the ballot-box.  The county-by-county mapping distributed the popular vote and beside a translation of the election to electoral votes represented something of a conclusive resolution for the bitterly contested election.   The map registered almost palpable opposition to continued presence of federal troops, reacting to the feelings of infringement on local liberty from federal military oversight of the South during Reconstruction in the election whose traces can be seen in  cultural memory when federal troops much later allowed the Little Rock Nine to attend an integrated High School in 1957, if seems to have been remembered by few when Representative John Lewis responded to the deep distrust occasioned by local police’s August 9 shooting of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 by requesting that President Obama declare martial law in the small St. Louis, Mo. suburb of Ferguson after violence erupted in the streets:  it seemed the proper reaction given mutual miscomprehension about the still unexplained ten to eleven pistol shots–an act that only led to an almost informal late-September apology from the local police chief.

Missouri and Arkansas contained particularly deep regions of crimson as former slave-holding states, where memories are strong.  (Missouri still lies on the other side of the gasoline-tax divide, if it is geographically located above the parallel that sets off most states in the American Petroleum Institute’s map.)  Is it unfair to note that as Gannett mapped a divide that reacted to the infringement of using  federal troops to ensure civil liberties across the South, he transcribed a cultural memory that echoes even a century off, and generates its own after-images of resentment at civil liberties?  Missouri is, of course, seen as a less reliable “red” state than it was in 2000–when it went for Bush over Gore–but remains, interestingly, on one side of the Gas-Tax divide, even if it lies mostly entirely above the most prominent meridian’s divide.

 

11.  Gannett’s info-graphic parsed county-by-county voting tallies of the election, years later, to clarify the results and distribution of Hayes’ victory,  by then a done deal but one not clearly grasped by many; the economy of the inset map of the electoral college succinctly symbolized Garfield’s Republican victory in an icon of national unity.  The cartographical image might now raise questions for some about the distribution of electoral votes that it records, and the heavy number of electors from the southern states, but it used the map to bind the continued coherence of the states then in the republic, explaining how the affirmation of Colorado’s statehood effectively tilted the balance of the electoral count.  But given the prominence of the issue of autonomy of the formerly seceding states in the union, it’s striking for the density of deep crimson in multiple blotches below the thirty-seventh parallel: their intensity holds the viewer’s eye , despite the lightness of the light blue shading in northern and midwestern states.

The dividing line served as a basis to articulate deep desire for autonomy and the withdrawal of federal presence oddly continued in current politics, and reflects a line that the US government had as recently as 1875 contracted the surveyor Chandler Robbins to find as a boundary line between Arizona and New Mexico, running along the 37th parallel from the four corners monument–the very same line separated the greatest concentration of anti-republican votes, and would encourage the growth of Southern Democrats, and the latitude seems a fold along which the nation divided into two just a generation after the wake of the Civil War, but although Utah, Arizona and New Mexico did not yet have electoral votes in the Presidential elections as other states, Gannett revealed a clear divide on the latitudinal line between the rosy pink states north of Tennessee and Virginia, and the deeper red reserved for the Deep South.

 

37th Parllel

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625

 

 

The info-graphic predating GIS summarized the divide in deeply symbolic ways.  It affirmed a resolution before the expansion of the United States that relayed the future expansion along the lines decided by the Missouri Compromise:  unlike the simple geographic distribution of the popular vote in the election would suggest, the particularly contentious election was only resolved in a decisive manner by confirmation of statehood for Colorado its one electoral vote tipped the scales to Hayes and handing him the presidency.

The image suggests the increased expectations of cartographical literacy to read and interpret, that seems to mask over the deep divide between North and South which would repeat the division of the Civil War itself:  the reader of the map would note with surprise the considerable number of electoral votes assigned Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska, which serve as a counterweight to the greater electoral votes of Southern states, that uniform swath of red  encompassing a considerable share of nation’s geographical territory.   Hayes’ presidency rested on midwestern states as Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas but also masked a division in the country parsed in the first data-maps and demographic infographics:  the map is also startling since it reflects political divides from recent elections:  the color-scheme almost holds, irrespective of shifts in political affiliation over one hundred and twenty-five years.  The dextrous distribution of the popular vote Gannett mapped was reprinted in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas (1883), for viewers to scrutinize local variations in the distribution of election returns at fine grain on the county level.

 

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The lithograph was designed as a cogent explanation of a national divide, something of a counterpart to the famous chloropleth lithograph of slave-holding states which Alexander Dallas Bache devised based on the 1860 Census with the recent German immigrant Edwin Hergesheimer (1835-89), or the instructional wall maps like the so-called “Washington Map” Matthew Fontaine Maury mapped from the Census–“States Marked thus * Claim to have seceded from the United States,” the legend of the latter reads, presenting itself as an explicit performance of the continued claims to national sovereignty of the United States.  On the eve of the US Civil War (1861-65), Maury, then Southern Secretary of the US Navy, mapped a Republic in ways that silenced clear fracturing, following a county-by-county cartographical practice but intentionally omitting the geographical divide that would open like a chasm in maps such as Gannett’s in later years.

 

12.  All are, in a sense, evidence of a turn to the resolution of crises of national representation and the dramatically increasing “map literacy” of the late nineteenth century American reading public, or map-mindedness, that suggest the extent to which thinking with and through maps provided new forms of symbolizing and understanding national unity in readily reproducible form.

 

jp2-1.py

JIM1443-redd

 

Yet we are also, for reasons it demands to be explored, both less attracted by attention to the complicated nature of divisions, and perhaps, given the amount of data by which we are increasingly overwhelmed, more eager to resolve disparities into monochrome voting blocks.  The divides we seem to imagine always existed or only increasingly solidified emerged as something like a means to heal how the performance of the unity in the map had been torn asunder in the Civil War, but was in fact able to heal, rather than to ossify or be accepted as an inevitable and insurmountable divide that so often seems to continue to cut across the land.

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Filed under data visualization, Henry Gannett, infographic, Red States vs. Blue States, Susan Schulten

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Afterimages of Secession across the United States? (Part I)

A central conceit of national maps is to mask divisions within the coherence of a sovereign entity.  The continuity of a bounded region is the implicit subject, to be sure, of any map.  But our current electoral maps or their GIS variants of the geographic distribution of voting habits reveal surprisingly stark divides in ways that undermine or challenge that unity, by not only defining imaginary boundary lines of voting preference or political support, but embodying new regions of coherence.  By readily mapping the emergence of blocks of voters and regions that seem definitively removed from one another, infographics such as that depicted in the header unwittingly challenge the notion that the state can still perform a symbolization of the nation–or will ever be able to do so effectively again.  The United States seem to fracture once again on that imperfect parallel 36°30′ in the symbolic frontier of lower gasoline taxes across the United States, dividing the nation with particular symbolic resonance.

The transformation of the map into two differently-hued blocks, the image illustrates the mental ju-jitsu of the infographic, that replaces the symbolic coherence of the map–or nation–with a fragmented version of itself, by uses the performative power that maps hold as a symbolic unity against the viewer’s apprehension of its form.  One often can’t help looking at such a data visualization, or the images that render the mid-term elections in clear divides as if they created either a mirror or reflection of deep divisions that haunt the local political landscape.  This is especially true of the “Gas Tax” divide posted some months earlier in the Exxon-Mobil blog, which now seems almost a premonition of the more recent electoral divide.  Despite the premium on the short-term in such data visualizations, which act as if they were transcriptions of the nation’s temperature or public opinion polls, in apparent ignorance among those who craft such visualizations of historical national divides, the symbolic divide cannot help but reference the traumatic divide that cleft the nation.  The divisions between northern and southern states around slave-holding are resurrected, rendered apparent again; the return of the repressed gains a new immediacy that threaten to replace or overwhelm reality, given the persuasive format of the division in the nation they insidiously perpetuate.

If such a division seems emphasized by the medium of the infographic, the status of infographics in collapsing or synthesizing a large range of data in a readily consumed image demands to be examined for the facility with which it creates national divides.  Although the infographic may only be about the present-day, it places a historical burden on the national divide it resurrects, in gesturing to the current divide as if the entire nation was at stake.  GIS data visualizations, for all their focus on the present and the short-term, tend to challenge the coherence of the nation, by evoking images of the traumatic divides that have rent the country, including the historical divide of southern Secession which had seemed to have receded in collective memory.  But this divide seems to haunt the country during the Obama presidency, seems to haunt the response to riots after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO or the debates about the Voting Rights Act.  The point isn’t that, as Rand Paul argued in Time magazine, that the “something is wrong with criminal justice in America,” but that the lived sace of the south, where Paul resides, is still haunted by a divide, in which the owner of Celebrity Foods Restaurant in Ferguson can ask, “If you have a commander-in-chief, in a high position like that, facing racial profiling and slander on a daily basis, what do you think it is like for simple, every day, law-abiding African Americans?”

The recycling of this still-traumatic divide is examined in a later post on the persistence of Southern Separatism in the Gas Tax map, which also offers the pretext for this over-lengthy rant on the disturbing images that continue haunt the visualization of  current national divides, and the danger that we face in their compulsive naturalization.  The quickness with which a large area of the South was not only written off as a block of red states but a separate part of the nation in many recent data visualizations, in ways that which, for all their recording of the present, seem haunted by the image of regional secession–and most especially by the very divides that undermined the coherence of the nation from 1861, when the continuity of territorial mapping was overcome, as it were, by the separation of South Carolina and then other slave-holding states south of the ng parallel 36°30’N instituted in the Missouri Compromise.   Reecent projections of political elections eerily and somewhat inexplicably still reflect the same line, as if its fracture line were still evident.

 

959px-Missouri_Compromise_Line.svgWikipedia Commons

 

Such data visualizations are of course impoverished from an inability to describe the historical past, and the image above is mute to describing the historical experience what happened on the ground, just has the medium of the map cannot provide perspectives on or how the institution of enslavement was lived and could hoped to be contained by a latitudinal parallel that effectively determined two separate polities.

The historical occurrence of the divide however appears to intentionally evoke the very trauma of the breakage of the nation along a known fracture line.  The very format of defining blue and red blocks within the country are imitated in how we remember the unfolding of the Secession of Southern States, here shown on Wikipedia in the Missouri Compromise along the parallel 36°30’N:  if the fault line in the nation around the institution of slavery seems to haunt the divides television maps create of the nation’s voting, which form an odd alchemy by coloring the map to mirror how we have come to color national political divides, they are in turn haunted by the fault-lines of secession, or as by the notion of two republics.

 

1.  While old maps can afflict us with nostalgia, it’s impossible to wax nostalgic as we view the divided landscape that this “Compromise” sanctioned and the human costs that it created.  While the dividing line between slave-holding states and a north where the institution of human ownership and chattel was curtailed undoubtedly was informed by practices long existed on the ground, it was perpetuated in the map in odd form, as if naturalized to part of the national terrain.  The contemporary use of primary colors to delineate the divide drawn around and west of Missouri oddly echo contemporary electoral maps both in raising questions about the unity that exists between such a chromatically divided country and the possibility of the future unity with such a fracture-line so prominent.   It is striking that a map in Wikipedia Commons, printed below, also adopts the identical chromatic split to render the Missouri Compromise, as if to naturalize a longstanding national divide:  the historical “Compromise” allowed the institution of slave-holding to survive permit slavery in that state, but set a barrier to its expansion north or across the plains, effectively marginalizing the institution in the country to a lower latitude envisioned as constituting a sharp delineation of red states from blue states in ways that the most recent projections of political elections eerily and somewhat inexplicably still reflect.  The way that this division intentionally or unintentionally haunts the division of space within the map makes the pointed if blunt rhetoric of the infographic so troublingly compelling.

 

959px-Missouri_Compromise_Line.svg

Such symbolic divides that seem to haunt maps, as if scars were inscribed upon them, might be considered traces of an “afterimage” of experience that is embedded within the semantic structure of a map.  The concept of mapping an after-image is rarely the focus of a strictly cartographical pursuit, but emerges rather with the distribution of the dataset that give style suggestion of making the land speak, or attributing a voice to map signs.  The line of the gasoline-tax divide offers something close to an after-image that continue to haunt its political landscape.  Exploiting our addiction to the data visualization to allow us to look at spatial divides in new ways, the image promises the apparent immediacy and credibility and unmediated access to our representational democracy.

But the image is plagued by the extreme descriptive thin-ness of data visualizations.  The sheen of two-, three-, or four-tone data visualizations which promise to orient us to the polarization of political beliefs across the country that invite us to divine tea leaves in the divides between monochrome color blocks.  But they do so without even stating the local interests or political debates at stake, reducing the “information” that tan image that reveals in its county-by-county distribution a clear latitudinal divide.  The use infographics to process information with limited demands on the reader, grabbing visual attention in an over-saturated news market.  But since they provide such compelling pictures and predictions of national debate, even to occupy a prominent place in the political discourse, they demand to be examined in the context of the expanding archive of data visualizations foregrounding divides.  Even without offering local variations to the viewer, each trumpets its own actuality, as if they mapped the country with an apparently definitive objectivity not previously accessible with such immediacy.

 

2.  The objective rhetoric that was long discredited in maps resurfaces in these infographics.  Such opaque flatness is exemplified by the alleged inequities illustrated in the Gasoline Tax Map in this posts’ header, about which this post offers meditations–and might be read selectively by scrolling through its images.The data visualization, if based on a selective sampling of few data points, orients viewers to the country by discrepancies in levels of gasoline taxation as disrupting continuity among states, as if to trumpet the purported inequities of the tax burden that result.  Devised by Exxon-Mobil blogger Ken Cohen in order to make the case against tax inequality, the map not-so-tacitly echoes the divide of the Civil War of which it seems to constitute an after-image–if not the Missouri Compromise that legislated the distribution of slavery in the United States.  On the one hand, it seems to use the haunting imagery of secession effectively to suggest a breakaway republic-in-a-republic of lower taxes, where big government’s role has been diminished, in a Land of Cockaigne where gas flows free from the pump, unencumbered by government oversight.  On the other, the two-tone tan graphic of course evokes a break-away republic:  for it registers a prominent political divide that still seems to haunt our country’s coherence in ways far more seriously than folks at the Exxon-Mobil blog may in fact realize:  the break of secession, and its aftermath created a traumatic divide in the nation that the gas-tax differential is haunted.

The muteness with which it charts a break between northern and southern states–and alleged transparency of unequal tax burden drivers face–suggests the limited information endemic to selective data visualizations, if not the irresponsiveness with which the data-modeling of national elections’ results pose as evidence of national division.  This post attempts to excavate such images, by considering such images in deeper historical relief.  By opening a history the associations of a divided country that such an info-graphic so pronouncedly reveals by its evocation of a national map, this post examines the way that such visualizations exploit a historical rent in the fabric of the nation, by is tacit invocation of the secession of the southern states.  The traumatic break that was the aftermath of secession and reconstruction is not only evoked in the map, but the info graphic seems to belong to a series of images that replay the divides between north and south along a latitudinal line.

Indeed, the chunky data visualization provokes a reflection for this blogger on the role of maps in the performance of national unity, from the first statistical maps of population devised by Francis Amasa Walker based on the ninthUS Census, provide its viewers with a comprehensive picture of the nation, to the political maps of his successor, Henry Gannett, who confronted the problem of visualizing how voters behaved at the polls, to our own attempts to evoke or come to terms with nation divides.  Walker’s maps of racial, immigrant, and economic distributions not only characterized the nation but provided ways to understand the divides of its composition.  Walker’s map of the distribution of “colored population” in the states revealed in its focus on the  presence of African Americans across much of the country according to the 1870 Census.

 

 

Colored Population 1872

 

 

Color 1870 census

 

 

Walker’s map of Walker contrasted to the map engraved by the Liberal German immigrant engraver Edwin Hegesheimer in a choroplethic map of slavery ownership in the southern states which provided a strongly pro-Union image, convincingly rooting the economy of the southern states in the institution of slavery:

 

1861 slave population map

 

While Hergesheimer’s choropleth map created a strong otherness of the southern states economy, and foregrounded the isolation of slavery shortly after ten states had seceded from the nation, when it was sold to support the war effort, the distribution of the electoral vote of 1880 sought to reveal the containment of Southern opposition to the Republican platform.

Does the Gas-Tax map offer an echo of this earlier divide?

 

3.  The two-color maps by which Gannett and Hewes charted the distribution of the electoral vote, county-by-county, across the United States, as shown below, by using red to indicate the persistence of anti-Repbulican sentiment across much of the south.   As Gannett and Hewes’ other maps, it seeks to demonstrate the new political lay of the land “by graphic method” to unite the “present condition” in a synthetic image:  if maps of the nation had been increasingly displayed in classrooms, post offices, railway stations, and shopping centers around 1860, the Gannett maps of the country’s divided electorate reveal what approaches to be monochrome fields that, while showing the persistence of anti-Republican memories linked to secession, in ways that realize the true trauma in the collective memory in the post-war attempts to create a union.

 

Vast lingering shades of red

 

The use of red in the image is striking, for it seems to suggest the persistence of a deep resistance among the local population to integration and what would be called the backlash to efforts of Reconstruction.  Maps in the color supplement of the Chicago Tribune have been associated with two-color mapping of presidential contests that chart Democratic votes in red in predicting the victory of William Howard Taft over William Jennings Bryan.  That election divided the country in ways reflected in Henry Gannett’s prominent use of “red” to designate the anti-Republican electorate in the Scribners’ 1883 Historical Atlas.  

Gannett’s map would, as much as illuminate a national divide, suggest the increasing post-war coherence by which representational government was laboriously but precisely fashioned.   The intensity with which the afterimage of Secession made its presence known through successive presidential elections that he and Fletcher W. Hewes documented for the 1883 Historical Atlas, and which they followed through the Presidential elections of 1884 and 1888.  The maps provided a tool to trace the persistence of an anti-Republican voting block across the south, in which the divide of Secession materialized in new ways as a part of the Republic.  These images imprinted an image of a divided nation over time, questioning the map’s performance of the nation–seeming to register the memory of secession and autonomy in the aftermath of Reconstruction, and seem to process the deep trauma of this divide through the widespread resistance to the Republican program of Reconstruction perhaps more effectively offered a way to map the memory of secession, and the lingering trauma of the attempted imposition of Reconstruction in Southern states.

 

1880 Popular VotePopular Vote of 1880 (Library of Congress)

 

Both the map whose shading reveals the intensity of the popular vote’s distribution and the inset map of electoral votes explicitly capture the “afterimages” of southern secession by chromatic differences, incorporated in a performance of the nation’s continued coherence in a government-sanctioned map.  Distributions of the vote in later years traced the persistence of this after-image and data visualizations of the nation, which continued in 1884–when Gannet mapped the ration of the predominant vote to the total vote, in ways that focussed on the density of Democratic votes in pockets below the latitudinal divide–continue to register the attempts to record the integration of the nation, as well as the persistence of a deep divide, as a persistent carmine registers pointedly in South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, and parts of Alabama.

 

1884 {popular vote from totals}Popular Vote of 1884 (Library of Congress)

 

The attempt to map the totality of the nation through the popular vote continued in 1888, by which time the carmine block of red-hued anti-Republican votes,  long understood as concentrated in the Southern states, gains a density in the Deep South, shift from rosy pink to carmine across the latitudinal line–with the deeper carmine reserved for South Carolina and Mississippi, and north Carolina and Tennessee and even Alabama fading to pink.

 


1888 ratio map to predominant votePopular Vote of 1888 (Library of Congress)

 

4.   The sequence of maps identified an unconscious “afterimage” that reference the symbolization of unity in the country, but also the pressures that threaten to tear it apart.  Using the conceit of an “afterimage” to describe the map serves to illuminate its very historicity–and the way that the map narrates a story of the unity that maps such as that of the Missouri Compromise created, or that the first maps to register southern secession, from Harper’s Magazine in 1861–expressed northern and southern states as two differently shaded entities to frame a crisis in national identity in explicitly cartographic terms.  The different shades used to depict regions the initially seceding states that followed South Carolina in early 1861 and join the Confederacy by May precipitated the Civil War–and secession created a fracture line in the country, in which the northern states were shaded deeply in gray.  Several “border states” elected to remain in the Union; the Harper’s map displayed their “comparative area” east of the Rockies, etching a spatial division that left an imprint that has been difficult to erase from the land, if often difficult to sharply define–whose after-images can be readily recognized in subsequent maps.

 

confederate-states-map

 

As much as reflect the trauma of secession, to be sure, Gannett’s maps traced the afterimage of secession and the rebuilding of the nation during the trauma of Reconstruction:  if Freud argued, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, that traumatic events, rather than really experienced or fully recognized as they occur, but are consciously processed only after the fact, when they are informally or formally remembered, the recognition of Secession was understood in Reconstruction as voters were asked to participate in a shared political process.  In an age when the unity of the continental United States had just been processed, as in the “Washington” that the future Confederate Matthew Fontaine Maury designed shortly before the south’s secession.  The map designed to be exhibited in classrooms, rail stations, shopping centers, and in window display cases, symbolizing the nation, was ringed by a ribbon of presidential faces, provided an emblem of sovereign unity, the data visualizations that Hewes and Gannett created offered less a mosaic of states than a mosaic of two divided political parties.

 

Muary's Washington Wall Map for schools, window display in shopping districts, public life

 

It was a map of local resentments, and of oppositional divides, the likes of which we have, oddly, begun to see reoccurring once more, but were, it feels like at times, always with us.

If Gannett’s map seems to knit together these regions, in the “Gas Tax” map on the Exxon blog, the two halves seem to be pried apart once more–although without recognizing the trauma of its division.

 

5.  We are of course not new at all to such symbolic prying apart of the nation state.  The intensity of the frequencies of colors of like red and blue to designate differences in the map seem to appeal to how color-divides continue to haunt the land.  Although optical “afterimages” properly refer to retinal impressions left by especially intense colors or sudden bursts of light–encountered in optometry exams or sunsets, as well as the foveal imprints that are left by backlit computer screens–which imprint after-effects, even when we close our eyes, in our retinas, day-glo hues that float in blotches suspended and not attached to objects, blurry forms of physiological traces we wait to fade with time.

In the manner that these oddly colored images hover in our field of vision as disembodied forms, removed spatial bearings, even though they eventually disappear, the ways that they haunt one’s vision spectrally, superimposed upon space like scars, capture the odd ways that these divides seem to haunt data visualizations that preserve images, like snapshots, of differences not in settlement but in sociological data and collective habits or education rates.  They seem to persist in these maps, even though such data visualizations identify a present status quo.  Their survival, if not intentional, seems an interesting extension of the analogy we draw between maps and vision, even if data visualizations seldom appeal to optical perceptual models.

The notion of afterimages seem especially appropriate to discuss the chromatic divide of red vs. blue that has materialized the nation’s divide in televised newscasts, soon after the diffusion of color TV became a standard source from which we derive news information.  While some of the first maps to use chromatic difference to suggest a divide that haunted the nation–the divide of Secession–did so quite consciously to depict the survival of oppositional polarization in a vision of the nation–here crystallized around the reaction to the continued presence of federal troops in the south and program of Reconstruction–the conceit of recording such an “afterimage” has become more unconscious, and more disruptive.  We have read the divides of recent presidential elections so often that they seem to be etched into our cerebral cortices after having followed the twists and turns of the 2000 election, dividing states “blue” or “red” in essential ways, but are shocked at how the line of latitude still scars the nation’s political topography.  The divides mapped offer less of a metaphorical window or mirror of the territory than a reflection of the after-images of divides or differences that continue to inhabit different practices of political representation across the land, as if to offer a divide along which issues of national significance are still prone fall.

The use of “red” to reference Republican states is often attributed to Tim Russert‘s political commentary on the aftermath of election night in 2000.  The two-color divide gained a symbolic currency as electoral votes were tabulated with continued inconclusiveness, the evidence of alternating colors for political parties in televised electoral results was revealed by Kevin Drum to have lacked clear identification with a party in the color-coded electoral maps shown from Presidential elections 1976–states for Jimmy Carter were mapped “red” in 1976 and 1980, and states voting in majority for Walter Mondale were in 1984; if states voting for George Bush were shown in red in the color televised results of 1988 election, states footing for Clinton were mapped in red in the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996.  (Across the border, in Canada, “blue” is claimed by the Conservative party, designating the Liberals as “red”, and New Democratic Party “orange,” though it leans further left.)  But although states the voted for Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie in 1968 were colored in red on the nightly news, the Wikipedia electoral maps have retrospectively canonized the identification of red as Republican since the visualization of the results of the presidential election of 2000.

 

e1968_ecmap

 

 

But in 2000 the use of red to reference “Republican states” was almost naturalized, and by 2004 the opposition became among the words of the year, so clearly was the visualization embedded in viewers’ minds as something that made common sense.  For William Safire,  Russert was “the leading popularizer of a blue-Democrat, red-Republican assignment [which soon] took hold nationally”:  but Russert was such a huge television personality valued for his skill at both distilling and framing news into bite-sized yet informative, that his adoption lent currency to the division as a compelling symbol, credit for inventing the dismaying division of choreographic unity aside.

The image of a chromatically divided country took hold as it crystallized in common use or a collective consciousness, perhaps for the very reason that it makes a single story about the nation so difficult to tell.  So dominant is the storyline of division, it is difficult to orient oneself to Gannett’s statistical map and remember that the light azure signifies Republican votes, and the carmine intensity of the south reveals the relative density of a Democratic preference.

While we recognize something like a similar scar looking at the map of levels of gas taxation that break along a familiar latitudinal divide in the header to this post, the survival of the scar of secession is so quickly recognized because of how it disrupts the notion of the map as a performance and representation of the unity of the nation, however, and the ways that images disrupt national unity suggest the death of the map’s primacy as a tool for embodying national identity, and its rise for spatializing a pie chart in potent ways.  Of course, the new separatism is quite new, and wasn’t so visible after the results, say, of the Senate elections of 2008, although these were particularly distinctive in their Democratic tilt, despite the quasi-separatist victory of George Wallace in his 1968 presidential candidacy as an Independent:

 

2008 Senate Races

 

 

But the recent resurgence of Southern separatism, even if temporary, makes the map of the 1880 popular vote particularly interesting, as a way of narrating national unity–if not a symbolic restoration of the nation’s symbolic coherence–at a time of apparently increasingly bitter national divides.

An overly familiar latitudinal divide was resurrected in the “Gas Tax Map” first posted on the Exxon-Mobil blog to suggest the steep differences of what drivers pay at the pump.  The map does not detail the variations of gas prices per gallon, however, but the taxes that it suggest create a policy of “passing on costs” to drivers.  Readers of data visualizations are immediately capitulated into the role of news analysts, who can read the legible national divides rendered in the monolithic blocks of bright colors along which one country breaks.  The aesthetic of data visualizations respond to the increasing value on the art of readily putting results at our finger-tips–of a piece with the shrinking horizon of expectations of online news, but also to the condensation they provide that seem to underlie an actual map:  they parse the political preferences as filtered through representational democracy, investing regions with contrasting–if not opposing–ideological divides, as if to expose the fault-lines in the democratic state.  For they respond to the demand for sources of ready to digest information by arranging the division among voting preferences on not too unfamiliar fracture lines.

Our current collective fascination with how data visualizations divide the land are also based on their efficacy as explanatory tools to decode our conflicted present.  This leads us to valorize images that obscure their own deep historical poverty, and privilege the interpretation of their distributions only over the short-term and perpetuating the restricted temporal horizon with which data visualizations are so afflicted.  In privileging the access to the things as they are such distributions offer  by presenting something like a snapshot of the nation, we privilege the false definitiveness of the spatial distribution of data as if it were transparent or comprehensive–in ways we know it will never be–and promote the notion that the “visualizations” they offer reflect reality in a definitive way.  We do so without noting local complexities or variations.

While we admire the elegant aesthetic of reading the purported clarity of such divisions of space, the thin-ness that they create tease us through the familiarity of other lines of spatial division, which they reify without offering any way to explore.  For by substituting the actuality of their findings for a historical reading of the very ways they map space, they focus and limit our attention to the present moment’s actuality–or the superficiality of their snapshots of spatial division.  The odd and largely unstated assumption of the latitudinal divide Ken Cohen traced across the country reveals the staying power of a division, an “afterimage” of a political divide and resurrecting the notion of a divided nation.  Examining precedents of mapping of fault-lines of national divides place in relief the very historical precedents data visualizations erase and help process reasons for the persistence of a fault-line over time.  Detecting the survival of such “after-images” offers an excavation of the historical depth of such spatial divides, and of throwing even the most generic data visualization into a slightly more subtle temporal relief.

 

Gas Tax

 

The divide traced between northern and southern states traced in an infographic that seems to advertise the “Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide” offers an invitation to meditate on the longstanding holding power of a map sign, and excavate the transmission of such a stark divide between northern and southern states’ political cultures, and the historical depth of the division that the selective criteria that these infographics foreground, otherwise sacrificed in its transcendent view. Reading the cartographical rhetoric of the “map” of gasoline taxation reveals an after-image of secession that contrasts to the messiness of recent electoral maps.  It gains new relief when placed in a historical context of the contested nature of political unity that maps create–or disrupt–in rendering regional unity, as the image that is so readily apprehended as an unfair division of tax burden suggests alternate visions of public space, if not of the daily presence of federal government, which many now seem to which would just go away.

Whether the latitudinal line of southern secession inhabit the Gasoline Tax Map, the data visualization it presents embodies the separatism of a region, whose coherence long erased from national maps.  The divide along the 37th parallel, adopted in American law to demarcate the space permitting and sanctioning slavery in the Missouri Compromise that prohibited slavery north of the latitudinal parallel 36°30′ strikingly recurs in tracing lower gasoline taxes across the United States.  Certain cartographical signs often seem inscribed upon the land, as if revealing traces that recur in data visualizations at different times.  They suggest the survival of such an “afterimage” seem to reveal divisions as if they were rooted in the topography of a place, as if they were “afterimages” of a deeply drawn political divides that have continued to shape the very landscapes they ostensibly describe.  Such after-images are far too abstract for cartographical practice, but emerge as familiar fault-lines that can be readily recognized in distributions of datasets:  they arrange the land as if it its divisions could independently signify across time.

 

6.  The geographic mapping of political polarization to be sure mirrors the divide in vision of government in daily life often reified and naturalized as a dichotomous divide of Red vs. Blue States. We have read the divides of recent presidential elections so often that they seem to be etched into our cerebral cortices after having followed the twists and turns of the 2000 election, dividing states “blue” or “red” in essential ways, but are shocked at how the line of latitude still scars the nation’s political topography.  The divides mapped offer less of a metaphorical window or mirror of the territory than a reflection of the after-images of divides or differences that continue to inhabit different practices of political representation across the land, as if to offer a divide along which issues of national significance are still prone fall.

Recent maps of the divide or break between “red” and “blue” states are being dismantled to a certain extent in recent infographics, which trace how migration patterns have partly dissolved the clear lines of distinction in purple states in recent years.  But the power with which this color scheme presented tools to trace the changing political landscape of the United States emerged suddenly and quite sharply in American politics and on televised news reports of election-night when in 2000 the NBC graphics department decided to designate a national divide that explained the breakdown of the vote in a presidential election in a seemed a compelling way.  The map was popular as it revealed a fractured landscape of electoral preferences, and occasioned continued glossing as being the result of economic interests, a deep social or cultural divide, or difference in lifestyle that would somehow provide a way of understanding the changing political landscape of the country, rather than a purely political divide, in quite definitive terms.  For the gas-tax latitudinal divide not only maps questions of taxation; the status of taxing gas taxes maps a region marked by federal suspicion, and reluctance to accept taxation for gasoline.

The stark chromatic rift of consensus is rendered all the starker, curiously, in infographics used to process votes in contemporary politics, as if to further naturalize a divide within the nation.  Even in  map projections of the future composition of the US Congress, such as the interactive projections the website of the New York Times offers readers to ask us to predict how the outcome of mid-term 2014 elections for the US Senate by our own intuitions, we can imagine the break of states along a blue v. red divide.  And conceit recurred, most recently, in Election Day 2014, when the red split apart with apparent unity, now including much of the northwest:

Design Your Own Electoral MapNew York Times

 

While the interactive visualization of the balance of power is powerful, the Congress that will assemble from January 2015 will reflect a resurgence of a historical divide separating northern from southern states, and a similar run of red in the northwest.  The red that spans the “Gulf States” below recalls a time when electoral politics broke along something like a difference in vision of the nation, of the sort that was already mapped so clearly evident in the resistance to taxing gasoline used as this post’s header from the Exxon-Mobil blog, which begs to be read as bearing information of the very sort such infographics contain.

One of the first infographics ever designed, based on a far more detailed statistical map that tabulated the popular vote by county, was designed by Henry Gannett, then Superintendent of the Census, to process and mend the divide of political polarization after the presidential election of 1880, when states divided over the question of Reconstruction–but when the results of the popular vote revealed a more complex picture, even if one that in large part echoes the Gas-Tax divide.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

L.P. Hartley rightly warned the “past is a foreign country:  they do things differently there.”  But the after-images of secession replayed a deeply set collective memory, even as maps sought to contain the different ideas about the nation–and national governance.  At the time of the 1880 election, continued presence of the federal government in ensuring universal voting rights in Southern states, whose advocacy by the Republican made the election a sort of referendum which most all the Southern states would reject.  If the map embodies an image of the nation, the sharp split in the early statistical map that Gannett elegantly designed after the presidential election reveal a divide that eerily mirrors what seems a possible broad rejection of the Democratic party, which fell so sharply and strikingly along the historical break of political consensus along the dividing parallel 36°30’N strikingly recurs in mapping lower gasoline taxes across the United States.

 

7.  This dividing line–and Gannett’s mapping of the central trauma, the war over and the aims of secession no longer sustainable, of reconstruction, mark something of a divide that has haunted the very lines on which the electoral votes across the nation have often continued to divide–a divide that seems to have solidified in political institutions, if one looks at the breakdown of the electoral votes, and how the South voted democratic as a block by 1880, if Rutherford Hayes won votes in 1876 both along the Mississippi and in South Carolina and Florida.

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625Library of Congress (detail of above)

 

The echo of this divide in the midterm elections suggested the naturalization of a similar break, as Republican candidates ran, on an almost national platform, based on the vilification of the current president, with strikingly analogous results–if “red” now designated a majority of votes for Republican candidates, the sense one gains, looking at the electoral map, is a collective refusal to accept the paralysis in Washington that was blamed on a Democratic president.

The barrage of maps encountered on election night 2014 strikingly replicated the familiar divide that once more divided the nation.  In an age of immediate news and cultivation of the snapshot of political preference, many might even bemoan the absence of readily available consolidated results of elections, which are run by individual states, and not the federal government, so habituated are we to making available a synoptic view as if on demand–it is a lament that, with the lack of a single source, the map cannot be readily created and put on view with the immediacy increasingly demanded and required.  (The time required for mapping political preferences, albeit dramatically reduced in recent years, to generate data maps of elections even as the results are first reported, has lead us to notice the lack of a national standard for the reporting of electoral results, and leads to the “difficulty” with which different states’ polls close at different times–in another instance of how reality has trouble producing the data visualizations we might otherwise demand.)

 

First results

 

NYT #2

New York Times

 

While Virginia remained “blue” by the end of the night, as Illinois, one did not even need to know, implies the data visualization, a political rationale for how the votes broke south of the latitudinal divide.  The progression that continued to western states suggest a continuity of opposition to a status quo–or to a President with whom Republicans persistently identified their Democratic opponents, as they tried to make mid-term elections a personal referendum on a President with qualified popularity across much of the Southern half of the country–and those states where the President’s popularity has not that recently plummeted.  Although the Republican Party and Tea Party folk tried to treat the mid-terms as something of an imaginary referendum–as if this would validate a shift in the country’s political composition, and could revise the results of the Presidential election of 2012 or repeal of the ACA–the very notion of “running against Obamacare” (as preposterous as it might seem) evoked a frightening fold along the latitudinal divide.

 

Last Map Tues Election Eve

New York Times

 

Of course, this set of mid-term elections were perhaps the whitest and the oldest electorate in some time.  And for that 36.6% of those eligible who did vote were excited to vote by the slogan, as much as the idea, of defunding Obamacare–and, for right-wing bloggers, presenting the election as a grounds for a decisive rollback the President’s agenda–and opportunity to re-map a country actually being center-right:  as if misconstruing the ‘mid-term’ elections as a midterm examination President Obama had flunked.

The divide between states by primary colors of course concealed the fact that an astoundingly low number of the electorate participated–a number that descended below one third of those edible to vote in Missouri, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  It was with considerable presences that CNN’s national correspondent, John King, asked viewers “Do you live in Red America or Blue America?” before a map of the potential results of races in the House of Representatives, informing them “if you live here, you live in Blue America,” but “if you live here, you live in Red America,” in a map that simply “says it all.”

 

Blue America or Red America?CNN

 

One can’t attribute low turn out in the election to the finality of the info-graphic–although this CNN data visualization surely provides less of a mirror or image of the country than King boasts, and does seem to disenfranchise the members of the television audience to which King speaks, evoking the inevitability of the current complexion of the nation as if it were a medical patient.  The limited amount of information the infographic offered viewers, and the limited analysis King presented, however suggest the dangers of treating the map as if it spoke–or as if it dictated the region from which one was from.  For rather than using the map as a performance of the nation, King seems to have relished use of the map as a symbol of national splintering, in the ways that have become increasingly current since the election of 2000, gesticulating as if to fashion a consensus from the division made palpable on the screen behind his hands.

The map of purported voting preferences–this said on account of the quite historically low turnout, skewed to both a whiter and older electorate–has become a bit of a totem for 24-7 news stations, descriptive of a land beset by political paralysis and as difficult to frame consensus in as during the polarized political opinion in the aftermath of Reconstruction after the Civil War.  In 1880, when maps provided such important tools of investing symbolic unity in the relatively recently expanding nation, the map provided a way to create such a symbolic condensation of public opinion that seemed to stand as an icon of representative democracy, although the images have taken on a deeper and more introspective tenor in recent years, as if the voting preferences for different parties provided a reflection–seeing the map as mirror–of what the nature of our nation is.  But the polarization of politics at the end of Reconstruction was of course of necessity bridged–if messily, and in ways that created more of a scar of inequality than necessary in the view of some–or attempted to do so, whereas the pseudo-maps that are infographics which we produce  or see produced today seem interesting examples of how maps lie, and how we rely on maps to tell a story to ourselves about the nation–despite the growing gap between those visualizations and our nation.

 

8.  If such data visualizations perpetuate a “red” v. “blue” dichotomy that hits they eye, it obscures areas of grey evident in a map of Senate races to present a highly distorted map of where the voters’ preferences–though actual voting preferences of the electorate are often effectively silenced or erased by their amalgamation in a single dominant hue, unlike the precursor of modern infographics to which historian Susan Shulten recently called attention as helping process political polarization shortly after the Civil War.  And it ignores the concentration of population or any other regional divides, with considerably greater thin-ness than when the same colors employed when Gannett’s earlier statistical map showed a nation strikingly divided on somewhat similar lines in a polarizing election that was rooted in a clearer political divide.  Indeed, it manufactures a divide along lines we’ve become a bit familiar, as if to present the election as a mappable verdict although the actual division between parties is far less pronounced than it was one hundred and thirty five years ago.  The greater possibilities for engagement in Gannett’s carefully studied tabulation of the popular vote, made not on-demand for a news cycle but with the care of hindsight, suggests a far more subtle shading of the country to explore.

Gannett remapped the recently reasserted unity of the country in an attempt to heal–or historicize–how it divided into two camps over the issue of Reconstruction then championed by the Republican party’s platform–and did so in ways that first broached the question of such a political divide.  Although in his map, red signifies counties with a majority of Democratic vote, the chromatic construction of the map queried the unity of the nation around the question of its political representation, using the available body to map county by county.  (Despite the charges of widespread fraud and poor tallying of votes in the contested 1876 election, in which the winner of the popular vote, Samuel J. Tilden, lost the election, the map was also something of an elegant manifesto of its own of the presidential election’s legitimacy.)  In using infographics to process the political polarization of his own day, Gannett first chose red votes to designated counties voting Democratic, and against Reconstruction, shading the surface of the increasingly common map of the United States to distill how political divisions first mapped onto clear geographic lines in the Presidential election of 1880, when the tabulation of national votes was first tabulated with accuracy, as if to compensate for the widespread suppression of votes and gridlock associated with the US Presidential election of 1876.

Gannett rendered the distribution of votes in a qualitatively descriptive elegant fashion, worthy of Nate Silver, to provide an retrospective optic to visualize the political divide in the country in detail.  It recognized as a resistance to Reconstruction at a local level that deeply rooted in several southern counties, broadly split along the divide of the Missouri Compromise, in something like a growing scar across the land.


3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The map however seems and attempt to process a traumatic moment of which we have lost sight, which demands to be excavated for its own uneven topography because it is such a compelling achievement in revealing a complex engagement with issues–and indeed a varied surface of political debate that impels one to regard it as if it lay at the bottom of a palimpsest, over with later layers of distributions have accrued but can be peeled off, lending something like three-dimensionality to the infographic itself.

One might start from considering what it means to discuss the survival of such a similar divide across the nation.  Such broad brush strokes of regional differences, despite clear local variations in tone, suggest an apparently contiguous block of red across the southern states that is eery to recognize.  Although the aesthetic contrast between the two data maps is evident, both snapshots suggest the depth of a diachronic division along parallel 36°30′ N, a line along which the country has often folded, despite the flattened nature of the polling data synoptically digested in both images of divides that plague the nation.  The divide is echoed as an after image  thirty six and half degrees north of the equator in the distribution of levels of gasoline taxation, as if an after-image of a line of political secession has haunted the political landscape of the American south:

 

Latitude in Gannet's MapLibrary of Congress (detail)

 

Such data visualizations reveal a persistent divide or dissonance between the geographic unity of continental United States from their vision of political coherence.  Although Susan Schulten argued that Gannett’s statistical map provided a new understanding of the country’s division along lines of political polarization, in ways that provided a way for readers to struggle with understandings of national unity after the Civil War–in an early antecedent to the aesthetic of the infographic–the historical depth that the echo of the after-image of secession.  It also maps the depths of divides that is absent from the historical flatness–and short-term purview–endemic to the tastes datamaps consciously exploit or seem to respond.

Excavating the “after-image” that lies within an infographic offers a way of investigating the flattening of time that infographics all too often both perpetuate and perform:  the conceit of the “afterimage” provides a way to unpack the flatness of an infographic, and offers something of a remedy for the specter of the short-term that haunts most data visualizations–if not a way to investigate the presence of the past that lurks, as if within the map that lies underneath its surface.  For whereas infographics foster a reduction of historical perspectives on their interpretation, curtailing the long-term in the pathologically short-term attention span or ingrained “short-termism,” acknowledging after-images offer a way to unpack the false claims of comprehensiveness they promote, excavating the map of political divides that underlie how infographics divide the nation.  Detecting after-images provides a way to uncover the historical depth by which such spatial divides formed.

While we’ve often forgotten the above maps, which have only been recently resurrected to the eye of history from the dustbin of data visualizations, the divide traced between northern and southern states in the “Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide Map” provided in the Exxon-Mobil blog offers an invitation to meditate on the longstanding holding power of a map sign.  It might also offer an invitation to excavate the transmission of such a stark divide between northern and southern states’ political cultures, and the historical depth of the division that the selective criteria info graphics foreground, and which are sacrificed in its assumption of an Apollonian transcendent view of the nation-state.

 

9.  Map historian Denis Wood argued all maps “perform the act of statehood.”  But divides re-emerge within such national info graphics suggest the resurgence of a political polarization of the nation along an issue framed as nation, casting local debates and allegiances as congruent with nation concerns, and around a vision of the nation which materializes something like a deep dissensus in a vision of the nation:  widespread defection of a generation Southern Democrats after the 2010 Obama election set in motion a divide, that, with other changes,  encouraged a similar latitudinal divide to emerge in ways that shifted the national landscape and the image of the nation that maps create.  Longstanding resistance to accepting the imposition of federal taxes at the pump was not only a residual sentiment from a century and a half about federal presence in the south, but the “national inequalities” it illustrates reveals disrupted what Wood would call the “performance of statehood” along a startlingly similar–and deeply resonant–geographic dividing lines.

The performance of statehood has been increasingly disrupted in a range of info-graphics that reveal the poverty of certain areas of the country–a poverty we far too often naturalize.  For it is striking that divide mapped in the header echoes the striking continuity across many southern states in a recent mapping of the national distribution of well-being, a county-by-county assessment of QOL (an alternative to GDP, taking a sextet of life-expectancy, income, education, disability, obesity, and unemployment, rather than only a financial metric); indeed, the disparities in the Gas Tax might reflect a reluctance to impose taxes on poorer and relatively non-urban areas–and imposing a tax at the pump would cause undue duress.  But the weird continuity of orange, even if a snapshot based on present-day statistics and metrics, no doubt conceals the very sort of historical context that the narrow temporal perspective of most infographics tend to erase–even as they structure data by a geographic map or interface.

 

County Ranking of Happiness--Education, unemployment, disability, income, life expectancy, obesity

 

 

 

The map is less of a descriptive vehicle, to be sure, than a compelling tool to structure data.  “It is a cold thing, a map, humorless and dull, born of calipers and a draughtsman’s board,” wrote the twentieth-century pioneering aviatrix Berryl Markham–who rarely relied on them, to judge by her surprise in reaching Newfoundland in her pioneering transatlantic flight.  But the infographic is far colder, more stripped of quantitative detail about place, the socio-cultural mosaics evident in data visualizations offer provocations to dig deeper beneath their surface records of the short-term.  As if to conceal its relative poverty, employing cartographical outlines to organize data in a transcendent view seems designed to endow the data with apparent objectivity and legitimacy that validate its relevance to the work of imagining a nation.  Even the most abstract data visualizations adapt cartographical conventions to frame transcendent views that provoke questions of national unity.

Every so often, the divides revealed in illuminate otherwise hidden divides that haunt a landscape.  If the conventions of mapping often naturalizing spatial divisions, data distributions expose deeply drawn divides in how maps work to organize national space.  Even as the scientistic claims of mapping has so grown in considerable ways in computer-assisted data visualizations, the transcendent view that they offer conceals–even as it reveals–significant divides that have accumulated over time, and inform the political histories which they work to create. For all the flatness or superficial oversimplification of spatial difference suggested in the three-color snapshots that info-graphics provide, even the crudest divides become palimpsests ready to be excavated and illuminated when they are placed in relation to a long-term.

The romance of detecting such afterimages of southern secession offers a corrective to claims for rendering the division of the status quo that the seductive form of data visualizations as registers of a current inequality in levels of taxation.  It might be profitable to read the divide as an echo of the far deeper inequalities that underlie the nation’s terrain, and its bitter-tasting residues.  Divisions that underlie the symbolic unity of the lower forty eight are evident elsewhere.  They recur, for example, in the different legal cultures of each state, the different attitudes to imprisonment evident in topographies of the widespread mass incarceration of minorities in correctional facilities across so many southern Gulf Coast states, mapped by Elwin Wyly against a backdrop of the share of African American males within that total incarcerated population.

 

paste72

 

While Wyly’s 2004 map concentrates on a clustering of Federal Prisons, state prisons, military barracks, and larger private correctional facilities and police lockups outside of a  national context, it raises clear questions of a culture of incarceration specific to a region of states.

Many of the states that lie below the parallel that defines the “Gas Tax Latitudinal Divide” were slow to abolish the poll tax, as was stipulated in the 24th amendment adopted in 1964–if Texas did not do so until 2009, Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama were slow to add themselves to the list, and it was never ratified by seven southern states, including Mississippi.  And even if the US Supreme Court has recently struck down government oversight of specific states’ election laws as stipulated in the Voting Rights Act, to protect minority disenfranchisement in those regions with ingrained histories of discrimination, the depth of the political divides that define the south are still difficult to map.  If an earlier post in this blog described the deep divides of disparities between insured and uninsured Americans that many images of the nation conceal–or fail to illuminate for all the seductiveness of their totality–and asked about the motivations of these blindspots–and large numbers of uninsured across much of southern states from Texas to Florida.

 

% Uninsured in States Saying No

 

The deepest discontent about the representation and concealment of social and cultural divides in infographics lies in the relative absence of local context–or of historical depth–that would offer adequate contextual representations.  Even as they vaunt their own authorship, most infographics are hampered by blinders of the short-term.  The  dilemma of the short-term horizon of infographics so readily produced from the multiple databases daily generated in the twenty-first century haunts the pervasive nature of their use, and especially haunts the necessarily incomplete images of imagined objectivity they offer.

Even as we have come to be suspect of the objectivity of the map, we’ve come to accept the objectivity of the infographic as convenient forms to grasp or process social and political changes, despite the rather insidious erasure of context in their embodiment of a strictly short-term image of opinion, political preference, or social divides.  What would it look like to express or imagine a historical perspective on the divides traced on a map, mapping something that was less a statistical snapshot than an image of the relative continuity of deeply drawn divides?  For an infographic acquires an illusion of temporal depth when one considers it less as a distribution of inequalities, but an “after-image” of the depth of earlier divides.

If Ferguson, MO is a predominantly African-American as a community, low voter turnout means that not only are its police force mostly white, but so are its elected officials, mayor, local commissions, community groups, and parks board–and indeed, its neighborhoods reflect the persistence of starkly segregated communities that seems typical of such suburbs, according to the American Community Survey of 2010, although Ferguson transformed quickly from a predominantly white suburb to one predominantly identifying African-American.  It was in such a strongly segregated sense of space that the unarmed Michael Brown was shot at the intersection of Canfield and North Florissant, after he allegedly “intimidated” a 240 lb. white policeman and refused to “clear the road”:  Brown’s death sparking a series of protests at the unjust actions of the suburb’s largely white police force–making it the flashpoint of a problem across America.  And it is in this setting that we might re-evaluate Rand Paul’s observation in Time magazine that “Something is wrong with criminal justice in America,” as if it was ever that right, or the Department of Justice weren’t troubled by the million black faces of those incarcerated in the skyrocketing federal prison which has since 1980 grown by 800%.  For Paul, “The failure of the war on poverty has created a culture of violence” that put police “in a nearly impossible situation,” but the problems that this population no longer feels served by a system of justice may be the far deeper threat:  and the persistence of disenfranchisement, as much as the “war on drugs,” may be the culprit, despite the attention of so many to how much marijuana was in Michael Brown’s system, as if that would warrant shooting at a man without a gun–and the outsized risk young black men face will be shot dead by police by an amazingly huge factor of twenty one times, or more than one every week over three years.  The gross difference counted between 31 young black men reported shot per million by police for every 1.5 young white man leads Paul to identify the danger for black men in high-crime areas:  but the community of Ferguson was hardly high crime, and the reform of criminal justice Paul calls for must begin with a broader rethinking of race relations.

Even as President Obama noted “is not just an issue for Ferguson, [but] this is an issue for America” that “there are issues in which the law feels as if it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion” that can’t be “tamped down,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, perceiving himself increasingly isolated, called for the National Guard to quell discontent at the failure to convict the officer who had repeatedly shot and killed Brown at point blank range.

 

casselman-ferguson-0826-map-12
Renewed violence in the wake of the verdict that did not prosecute Darren Wilson, the officer who shot the unarmed teenager Michael Brown, spurred local and international protest at the miscarriage of clearing the Wilson of wrong-doing, even as many protestors were arrested; a rash of tweets exploded across the nation, most intensely in the Missouri region, the eastern half of the US, and the largest cities on the west coast.

http://srogers.cartodb.com/viz/64f6c0f4-745d-11e4-b4e1-0e4fddd5de28/public_map

 

Twitter Map

 

and vigils planned:

 

Day After

 

 

10.  The collective atlas that emerges from these of data visualizations reveals traces of the past, to be sure, and deep fractures in the topography of representational democracy that single infographics mask or elide that undergird the Ferguson events.  But attention to the persistence of afterimages might offer ways to read the infographic against its conclusive finality, and might help to contextualize the stories that the infographics tell about the nation, as well as the echo-chamber of the infographic that the repeated symbolization of national divides creates.

At the risk of offering a presentist argument, such a reading might even enrich the cartographical template beneath infographics’ color-enhanced veneer:  one should be able to cultivate a skill of cartographical interpretation to better illuminate divides that haunt the data science, and scars not otherwise clearly revealed in their distributions, by noting the traces of an afterimage able to be recognized only within the semantic space of the map that underlies the data distribution, and by which the simplicity of its often overly crisp coloration can be read in greater depth.  The cartographic format of data-visualization offers a timeless two-dimensional rendering that vaunts its transparent rendering of divides.

The act of excavating the existence and persistence of afterimages is foreign to actual cartographical practice–or the aura of objectivity that is invested in a map as a comprehensive collation of accurate readings of place.  But the premium on dividing space into monochrome blocks seem too clearly borrowed from television screens to qualify as being seen as an actual map meant to orient the viewer to political divides than inventive ways to condense the current electoral habits of the voting class.  Excavating afterimages in the blunt medium of the infographic is something of a strategy for reading that seeks to puncture the adoption of apparent objectivity of what might be called a cartographical point of view that national infographics and electoral maps all too often assume for themselves.

Scrutinizing the afterimage that might be present in any map–or data visualization that invoke a map-like objectivity–becomes most apparent when one recognizes something like the embodiment of a spatial divide in map signs that betrays signs of the long-term, which the adoption of the alleged objectivity of a map obscures; as if removed from the subject they chart, the divide documented in the above data vis is not only an objective break in tax levels, but an underlying disruption as an afterimage that invites us to explore, or conduct something like an archeology, of the divide that it traces, and investigate the very opacity of the data visualization as a historical construction.

Even for those not overly familiar with mapping techniques will recognize their signs and conventions as the trigger of a spatial divide seared into our map-reading minds:  the recurrence of a clear parallel as the line of the gasoline-tax that has been newly diffused by Exxon-Mobil to document disparities  in gas prices across the United States.  For it also testifies to a particular powerful afterimage of a continental divide that continue to haunt its political landscape, and indeed the relation of a region to the prospect of national unity–perhaps more deeply than the divides so often drawn so often in recent years between red states and blue states.  For it traces a transmitted border of regional separatism as much as tracing a line of the inequality of the imposition of taxes on gasoline that suggests the possibility of lower gas taxes for a select few, rather than anything like a federal policy or situation that federal laws might remedy:  the map reflects local refusals of accepting the inequity of further taxes at the pump, rather than it reveals an unequal distribution of tax rates.

 

Gas Tax

gas keyAmerican Petroleum Institute

 

Despite the intent of its corporate promoters to relieve Americans from the apparent shackles of unequal taxation at the gas pump, the graphic unwittingly builds upon a deep distrust of national government even if it seems unconscious of what lies behind the very division that it seems so intent to track and promote in revealing the disparity of the gas tax.  (The curtailed short-sightedness of the infographic appeals to the short-term self-interest of the consumer or driver and effaces the historicity of the latitudinal divide.)

Data visualizations as recalling the new discourse-functions such early printed maps claimed, and as “after-images” of the earlier divides they traced.  But they also perpetuate them.  The after-images we see in the “Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide” are compelling since they refract the performance of inventing national cohesiveness in maps, and of picturing and re-inventing social unity, as much as frame a “hidden gas tax campaign” of which we have been largely unaware and which needs to be revealed.  Even if the map distributed by Exxon-Mobil is intended to reveal the undue impositions of the federal state across the country, it reminds us of the continued fractures of political space maps sought to paper over in rendering a national collective in ways that would fulfill their role as crucial reference points in the performance of statehood.   The “national inequalities” it illustrates might be placed within the longstanding resistance in this region to accepting federal presence, or seen as residual resistance to federal presence; but the mapping of resistance to further taxes at the pump are compelling because they suggest a intentionally disrupted performance of statehood.  By recuperating the situated nature of the historical production of such images, we can start to challenge the aggressive rhetoric of objectivity they adopt and their short-sighted aims.

It might make more sense to read the context in which data maps work to create the country, rather than how they indicate or present a set of traits transmitted over time.  But one cannot fail to be struck by how a split between northern and southern states arrestingly suggests an enduring dividing line of deep historical resonance, as if its cartographical signs could speak across time.  The clear divide that the rejection of taxes on gasoline seems to map among state legislature south of the 37th parallel that creates such a strong Gasoline-Tax Divide echoes the line of southern secession in particularly haunting ways.  It is striking that the past inhabits the very divides the map describes, as does our own cartographic consciousness of the rift between states created by this cartographical line of longitude that is so familiar.  It is as if the unconscious of the mapmaker were rendered or emerged in the “Gas Tax” map, given the clarity with which the dataset reveals a divide that we, as viewers, immediately recognize and are as quickly conscious of it as being  long suppressed:  as much as offering a window or a mirror on the landscape they describe, recognition of that divide asks us to interpret its content, less by our position in relation to its space than analysts of its continuity with past landscapes, or of how map signs serve to configure our relation to the nation-state.

For all our usual attempts to historicize the map as a document, the distributions of space that reveal the after-image become oddly unmoored from their specific time as the patterns we detect seem so uncannily present:  as if unhinged the historical context they were created, we innately recognize the “afterimage” preserved in them, as the scars that seem to be left by other traumatic spatial divides, triggering our own sense of cartographic consciousness of the space.  The strong presence of such “after-images” resonate with the presence of the map and map-interpretation in our lives, and recapitulate a tradition where maps consciously came to terms with national divide–and came to occupy a distinctly new set of discourse function oddly repeated in the latitudinal divide of local levels of taxation on gasoline.

 

11.  One might begin from re-examining the nature of the narratives about national unity that Gannett’s map raises–a question I return in a later post reflecting further on the map’s historical context and legacy–and the ways that maps refigure national identity.  The specific political circumstances of Gannett’s map suggest that Gannett used the data available in tabulations of the popular vote at local levels to digest a far more sophisticated and refined picture of the national complexion of the country–or the political complexion of its regions–than the framework afforded by televised infographics that map the results of the elections back onto the country–as if that would reveal actual variations in voting habits, despite the narrow margins of so many elections that the same sort of data visualization so evidently obscures.

If the projection of election results in the 1880 election that he labored to create, Gannett used great care to how the map was read by its readers, without a need to respond to insistent demands to provide a record of immediate results.  Indeed, rather than suggest that his picture revealed a divide, the use of chromatic differentials in lithography allowed him to create something of a keen record of local variations, no doubt bearing out a keen interest to register the extent of an afterimage of secession in the map of the popular vote, quite unlike the short term visions of most electoral maps on the nightly news, which is only slightly tweaked in the work of political scientists.  Because of this attentiveness, it might be beneficial to expand a more detailed reading of how Gannett’s map was sensitive to the persistence of an afterimage of the clear divide between northern and southern states.

The geographically polarized divide emerged in the division of states described in a county-by-county representation of the degree to which the popular vote tended Democratic or Republican.  Susan Schulten recently presented Gannett’s statistical map as the product of an early age of political partisanship, if not a founding moment of political divide, when the resistance to Reconstruction caused southern voters to attempt to reject the Republican platform, in ways that almost reflect a particularly salient latitudinal divide.  Indeed, after the 1876 election had been decided by a committee, and apparently against the popular vote, despite widespread accusations of voting suppression, the statistical accuracy of the 1883 map published first in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas revealed how despite the deep carmine coloration of much of the South and indeed the national map, once translated to the electoral college, a difference of “just 7,000” votes gave James Garfield a decisive victory–yet the margin would hardly mend the national divide.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The political division that it mapped as an episode of “Political History” barely concealed how the charge to manufacture an image of national unity. During the divided era of Reconstruction, as secretary of the US Census, Gannett approached the subject of national unity when he mapped the popular vote in the aftermath of the bitterly contested 1880 election.  The distribution of the vote revealed a predictably haunting cultural divide–as well as a preoccupying way to remap the nation.  As a material artifact, Gannett’s map seems removed in time and political culture, but introduced–if in a reverse color scheme–the division between Blue States and Red States to communicate most readily the deeply contested election in a county-by-county rendering of the votes that political parties won.  Gannett’s map reveals with considerable immediacy and precision the extent to which the division of slave-holding states adjudicated within the Missouri Compromise left something more than a bitter taste, but a scar, that continued into the aftermath of Reconstruction, hardly ended in the Great Compromise that concluded the election of 1875.  The longitudinal parallel that came to define the dividing line of secession for southern states, as had the Missouri Compromise, effectively engraved a legal divide in a sovereign state that create two polities in uneasy balance with one another.  The boundary generated a deep after-image in secession that haunted how Gannett considered national unity–both in the war and its aftermath, as mending the uneasy echo of blue versus red states.  As much as offering a means to “visualize the spatial dynamics of political power” in an icon of political polarization, it processed the division of southern secession by affirming the strong after-image of secession itself, some twenty years secession was advanced.

For all its similarities to computer-assisted data visualizations, Gannett’s map presents a divided landscape, if one whose color choice is reversed from the polarization by which we area accustomed to divide the country, that is less fractured than united.  We’ve grown so accustomed to denote “red” and “blue” states as to naturalize specific political preferences–and even profess shock at a “blue state diaspora” which created purple states, and offset red states’  growth, or describe folks fleeing blue states as if their blueness would be inherited in a naturalized political topography.  We naturalize the very coloration of an infographic as if it defined the nation’s political terrain.  Gannett’s map not only echoes not only the line of southern secession, but how the first maps of the United States became tools to represent the failure of secession and triumph of union as they “perform[ed] the act of statehood,” in Wood’s terms.

By placing the divides it creates in a deeper historical context of finer grain, Gannett’s map began a genealogy of the data visualization, historian Schulten argued “invented Red and Blue states” as a graphically efficient and persuasive way to process each party’s different levels of support.  The antagonistic opposition evident in the popular vote of the 1880 election also recorded a searing and long-lasting national divide whose memory, when scars of blood spilled on the battlefield not far receded, rooted in rejecting an overly intrusive federal presence south of the latitudinal divide–and  the centrality that the issue of Reconstruction occupied in Republican platforms in that year.  Schulten justly acknowledged how the map offered a new way to understand national divides, by using increased levels of cartographical literacy in the late nineteenth century to create an effective graphic register of national political divides during Reconstruction.

The historical map of the popular vote of the Presidential election of 1880 constituted a resonant moment in which afterimage of the continued divisions could be traced.  Even in the wake of the Civil War  the terms that Reconstruction throated to dictate to the southern states elicited a degree of collective opposition that revealed the deep divides that continued across the country, and had hardly begun to heal.  The divides revealed in Gannett’s political map remind us, in their graduated shades of blue and red, of the divides that were delineated, as if indelibly, and translated in how the “Popular Vote” was distributed.  The map offered a far more textured and finely grained visualization of voting preferences county-by-county across each state and territory than had ever existed in its rendering of the polity against a clearly defined projection of longitude and latitude, and in the provision of that data to a large body of readers cannot help but recall the recent popularity of synoptic summaries of recent presidential elections, also colored “red” and “blue” to indicate opposite ends of the spectrum.

The distribution sought to reveal considerably more local messiness than exists in the recent state-by-state colorations of info graphics, only recently contested in maps of more subtle parsings of voting tendencies by
political scientists who interrogate electoral behavior more closely than the electoral counts.  Even a superficial reading of the lithograph of “Political History” suggests the continued difficulty of overcoming memories of Southern Secession in 1880–although, as the lower right inset map reveals, stark differences were really only revealed as the popular vote was translated to the electoral count.   Yet Gannett’s map is compelling since it maps a striking after-image in the distribution of the popular vote that seems to recognize to unique propositional qualities in maps as signifiers, as well as to their power as rendering of big data in  close detail.  Despite the very different modes of production from the engraved map to the crude datamap to the interactive map, the power of their codes and conventions becomes unmoored in the mind of the map-reader that illuminate the how strongly the representational functions of the map resonate with the representational claims of the state.

Even in our dataphilic age, after-images move across media echoing the divisions first inscribed in print–the earliest ancestor of the infographic exists in the statistical maps of the US Census to map a still imperfect union among the states that seceded from the Union and the Republic, in an early detailed distributions of the popular vote in the presidential election of 1880 as a way to embody the union–and embody, if perhaps unintentionally, the depth of the resistance to the Republican platform designated by deep pockets of rich carmine in those counties that lay below the thirty-seventh parallel.  The divide that the abstract line continued to embody both in the years immediately following the failure of southern Secession–which elections of both 1876 and 1880 sought to overcome or as much as possible repair–itself occasioned deep cartographical reflection, even if somewhat papered over in exquisitely detailed remappings of the oppositional divides in the popular vote that Gannett’s office undertook to reveal the continued unity of the nation.   Gannett presented his statistical map of the distribution of the popular and electoral vote in a time of political antagonism–it explained the clear victory of the Republican party in a polarized contest–as if to present an argument that unity still existed across the land.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

Even in a time of political antagonism, and when the memory of secession just less than twenty years earlier was still strong in one’s mind, the debate about Reconstruction that were so central in presidential platforms were less a cause for divisiveness, as was readily demonstrated by voting statistics.  Gannett was clear-headed when he introduced his collection of printed folio-sized maps and diagrams with the promise that they could digest graphically the “dry and difficult” study of statistics by how both form and color provide a manner of “clothing the dry bones of statistics in flesh and blood” by embodying and revealing material continuity among them, in which “features of great importance, hitherto but vaguely comprehended, are made to appear at a glance, . . . so vividly impressed as not to be easily forgotten” (1883).  Such aids, Gannett perceptively realized, not only “make public sentiment and shape public policy” in ways “essential to intelligent and successful government” in any representational democracy, but most especially in the Reconstructionist postwar world.  Gannett’s elevation of the medium expanded his role as the Superintendent of the Census to a public portavoce of the state in a sequence of folio maps such as his image of the divided popular vote.  The resistance to the alleged interposition of further federal taxes at the pump reflects something of a similar resistance to the mapping of a symbolic unity, which seems at the core of what the visualization in the header to this post seeks to contest.  For the unexpected division of the symbolic unity of the United States gets at the heart of the sort of discussion that such infographics seek to begin, if not the stories that they tell.

 

12.  The distribution of states between the Democratic and new Republican party defined a symbolic divide that was the inheritance of the Civil War and processed the aftermath of southern secession in the polarized political community it traced.  Gannett almost acted as an emblem-maker whose vision rooted the evolution of national consensus.  But the depth of the division that he traced between recognizable colors–red and blue–provoke winces of recognition.  Indeed, the distinctly familiar contours it charts among political environments makes the first infographic used to gloss a Presidential race so striking to readers today.

The organization of the nation by coloring states through the electoral votes that they assigned to each party in the Scribners’ Statistical Atlas (1883) offered informed readers a basis to gloss electoral division that seems a clear precursor of the recent divide between “Blue” and “Red” states, as Schulten has noted, by giving political legibility to the country in a manner few readers had been accustomed to resolve the Secession of the south in the presidential process.  Gannett’s statistical map aimed to overcome the depth of the lasting political division–here noting Democratic votes in shades of Red, and Republican votes in shades of Blue–that Gannett himself would have been most happy to compare to the divides that continue to haunt the country one hundred and thirty years hence, but whose very division he pointedly used the map of the popular vote (and of how the electoral process mediated the popular vote) as a cogent means to overcome.

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625Library of Congress

 

Gannett’s elegantly organized and rendered infographic–inset in Gannett’s larger map of the popular vote of 1880–distributed electoral results the particularly divisive presidential contest, in which Reconstruction loomed large as if to affirm the integrity and coherence of the United States by the links between regions of slightly varied hues.  We can bridge the depth of the historical divide in which the map was designed by the head of the US Census because the sharp divide among electors is so recognizable to the infographics that we consume each recent presidential election that redraw fault-lines over the same form as if they forecast impending fractures:  earlier maps become resonant by conjuring divides that echo with unfortunately continuing fractures in the political topography of our own national space that our pundits are so happy and ready to gloss repeatedly.  When the far cruder data capture shown in this post’s header also offers an unexpected persistence of afterimages of a past we readily detect in its own spatial analysis as stubborn prompts of the depth of an “after image” that Gannett’s map so compellingly records.

While we could view these maps as screens on which we project our own divides, the recognition the map provokes suggests something more than a mnemonic and more than a harbinger of political modernity and its graphical symbolization.  So clearly do some maps reveal the historicity of radical rupture in the past that their delineation of divide seems transmitted in unconscious ways.  The Exxon-Mobil gasoline tax map was distributed by the American Petroleum Institute to illustrate the unfair differences in gas prices across the United States, but might be more striking for tracing the continued presence of such an after-image of southern separatism.  If earlier maps of southern secession struggle with the wrenching divides of a national space, their continued after-images in later datasets remind us of the echoes that some divides however improbably continue to retain, as they appear as if scars or scratches on the map’s face are suddenly revealed  in an X-ray or by application of ultra-violet light, for all its banality of chocolate brown, chestnut and tan.

 

Gas TaxAmerican Petroleum Institute

 

 

13.  For such afterimages reveal the continued unexpected resilience of divides across the topography of political preferences that surprise us by their sudden appearance.  The shock they provide reflects how we continue to carve up space in our minds in ways received from cartographical records:  to risk a poetical analogy, mapped after-images offer etchings of crises that haunt the landscape, and rhyme with past divides.  One example might serve to make the point.  The forestalled break of Scotland from the United Kingdom–despite worry about its possibility–carried little sense of the story implied by an earlier after-image or prefigurement, save perhaps Hadrian’s wall or the marine gulf that the thirteenth-century monk Matthew of Paris mapped between England and “Scocia Ultra Marina“:  a return to what Scotland was wasn’t clear as an embodiment of the region–for all its untapped potential of oil production–presented little meaning for most ridings’ votes.

 

Scots Referencum

 

Scocia ultra marinaBritish Library

 

Of course, Matthew of Paris used map signs holding far less currency among contemporary map readers, and drew the map in ways that the “Yes” vote were less ready to exploit since they hardly seem forward looking.

The shock of the separation of Scotland from the UK would be something like the reverse of disrupting the memory of a recognized map through the for-now forestalled shock of redrawing the United Kingdom:  even folks at Colliers–already familiar with recent redrawing maps of Europe as a whole--might have hesitated at dividing a national space of apparent unity that the outline of the United Kingdom has long defined.  In the recent referendum, the complicated and perhaps incomplete defeat of secession might perhaps have turned in part on the lack of convincing maps of separatism–everyone seems to have one–and the limited mobilization that the historical divide summoned–aside from Braveheart, perhaps–in conjuring the unity of mapped space apart from the apparent integrity of the UK.  (There seems to have been little possibility in providing or drawing on a map that embodied hopes for to separatism, perhaps, or an “afterimage” of the mapping of a prospect of Scottish autonomy that the referendum’s supporters would build upon.)

We recognize something like a scar in the map when we watch how levels of gas taxation that break along a familiar latitudinal divide:  the scar of secession is quickly recognized in the map, in ways that lead us to map the basis of what motivated resistance to taxes on gasoline, and to ask what the divides that are so present in that map reveal, aside from the readiness of resistance to taxation.

Cartographical after-images are revealed in ways that are specific to particular maps, and linked to both the sort of stories that the best dataset can reveal and the graphical coherence that the map provides. to the viewer which offer the possibility to grasp the meaning that the map embodies as a sort of argument about how we divide and understand space–and understand space by dividing it.    When the Southern Poverty Law Center presented a pretty compelling picture of what was called a geography of hate by mapping actual hate groups to remind us of the “pressing concern” for the persistence of such advocacy groups of collective hatred from the Kentucky-based IKA–the “Imperial Klans of America”–to the Illinois-based BOK–or “Brotherhood of the Klan”–the resulting image could be interpreted as evidence of the persistence such an “after-images”–but the persuasiveness of dividing states in the “Hate Map” is not that compelling as a distribution of states’  actual residents or of that clear a political topography that divides the United States, partly since they blur the resolution of specific pockets where these groups might be allowed to flourish in a broad range of states.

 

HateMap2007

 

Indeed, although the map appears to isolate the location of a region where such hatred not only finds its focus, but is able to be fostered and encouraged over time, the hatred can’t be readily mapped onto each region’s residents.  The concept of such cartographical “after-images” suggests more of a trace or imprint on than part of its representational functions.  The devil lies in the details, or in the extent that the details allow the viewer to enter into the local landscape a map presents:  after-images register differences that might be read as a lasting scar left on the land, but are best discerned within the content of subsequent maps.

 

14.  The scars or “after-images” left by such a political rupture are often most easily decoded and read in immediately subsequent maps–especially maps that turn on such sensitive questions as those of political representation in the immediate wake of the Civil War.  The lack of volition specific to after-images make them unlikely metaphors for the highly structured field of the map’s space, but as disembodied forms they compliment the inherited structures of space that are rarely registered in the actual landscape, but as if imprinted on the landscape in ways somehow independent of them, such “afterimages” are registered with surprising clarity in the distribution of the crudest data overlays to the far finer grain of Gannet’s lithograph.

If maps offer an alternative way of “seeing” the transmission of divisions imprinted on their surface, they reveal the after-effects of secession by spinning compelling narratives about the division of north and south. Even the crudest data maps might be aptly described as compelling “afterimages” of the lines secession drew across the land’s expanse, shaping local inhabitants’ view of the nation and national government as much as reflecting them.  Gannett’s registration of such dense redouts of anti-Republican animosity transcends mere conviction, but was rooted in reluctance to adopt what is seen as external imposition of civil rights’  policies, and reflects the retention of meaning that existed in the past demarcation of a Confederacy-Union divide.  But the recognition of the longitudinal divide among states which refuse the taxation of gasoline constitutes an odd after-image of the secession of southern states, as if an anachronistic echo of self-declared construction of a divide in the political landscape of the twenty-first century.

The concept of the “after-images” appeals more than that of a trace and an imprint on the map’s surface.  For rather than being an accomplishment or renewal than it registers the shock that occurred in the status quo, in ways that might the recognized as something of a scar that was left upon the land, but is able to be discerned only through a later map.  The afterimage reveals the result of the continuation of a cascade of events in how spatial divides are redrawn whose echoes–to synthetically shift or mix metaphors–continue to reverberate in how we read the landscape that it maps.  Instead of being defined in the map, the afterimage emerges from the resonance between maps, and from comparison–and is not able to be reduced convention or line on a map or be mapped, and helps maps empty the relatively abstracted distribution in the divide of local levels of gas-taxation onto an inheritance of political divides.

 

Gas Taxgas key

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The persistence of divide does not reflect only the outline that the image-maker or map-maker created–fictor cum dicit fingo figuram imponit– but also track the depth of a difference maps stubbornly reveal.  Much as the ghostly remnants of sudden ocular over-stimulation glide, disembodied from spatial coordinates or position in our vision, they offer unlikely metaphors for the collectives registered on a land-map.  But as an image of speech they suggest the unconscious ways that narratives of spatial difference are imposed on different ways of inhabiting space–and are imposed by the legal boundaries of difference that were created in the United States from the boundaries in which slave-holding remained permitted from the early nineteenth century, and were indeed defended as a right of the states toward the Confederate south that seceded from the union.

The divide in Gannett’s map of returns in the presidential election of 1880 revealed that Garfield barely won any of the counties in Southern states.  In transcribing the results of an election widely perceived as a referendum on Reconstruction, Gannett vaunted the precise tabulation of national votes and the recent coastal survey to create a color-coded record of the distribution of the popular vote by tones of red and blue for the first time, Susan Schulten wrote, to overcome the continued polarization of the post-war electorate in the United States.  Although the division of the electorate did not precisely correlate on a county-by-county level, the regions which resisted the Republican candidate (here represented in blue) constituted a shift to increasing crimson in comparison with a pinker–and far more light blue–northern states.

 

Around Mason Dixon LineLibrary of Congress

 

The division the statistical map reveals across the United States more broadly reflects the complex spectrum of progressive in some southern cities, but reveals dense pockets of carmine, thanks to Gannett’s innovative graphical choice of gradations of blue and crimson to differentiate electoral preferences in sharp detail.

 

Latitude in Gannet's MapLibrary of Congress

 

How such afterimages emerge may be less specific to their subject, most importantly, but based on how they allow us to navigate the political landscapes that they describe.  The most highly structured maps prompt and invite compelling stories about their distributions–whose after-images seem to haunt the political landscape:  as much as define the distribution of votes, in other words, Gannett’s “infographic” offers a solution to visualize the fracturing of national politics.  The compelling nature of such after-images that are revealed in a sequence of maps is less directly signified by attributes of what is mapped, than characteristics whose significance the viewer recognize as they read, as something like traces or indelible imprints separate from their proper subject.  Such persistent afterimages offer narratives that accumulate upon the objectivity of a map.

 

15.  Data-visualizations often intentionally offer distorted oversimplifications to readers, and fabricating divides in space as if they were permanent in nature.  For the electoral drama of 2000, when the emergence of a swath of red states reified the Republican victory in especially iconic terms, created a visual rhetoric of division that is particularly insidious.  The divide between regions red and blue was not born on televised news reports of election-night, as Athena out of Zeus’ head, but as NBC’s graphics department decided to designate a national divide the compelling  map of the popular and electoral vote for president  offered a fractured landscape of electoral preferences newly divided.  Whether a social or cultural divide, or a difference in lifestyle, the division offered a way to understand something like changed political landscape of the country with George W. Bush’s victory, although the rhetoric of redrawing the political map seems tired.  The history of sharp divides between “Red” states and “Blue” states responds not only to a search for meaning in our choreographic collective, but to the frustration of birding these divides within a system of representative government, in ways that would overcome the chromatically essentiallized attributes of any region or location as distinct.

They tellingly employ the patriotic hues from the primary colors–red and blue–not only to visualize  either end of the spectrum, but to suggest the continued coherence of the data visualization in a map.  There is less intensity strong enough to generate such perceptual after-images in a map, or presume after-images might be expected to exist, given the shifting political landscape of polarization, which suggest something like a search for narratives of differences that is mediated through political institutions process a political space.  For the divides that they have imagined have also emerged as far more complex, as elections have created a remapping of finer grain than the results of the electoral college would show.  Rather than mapping “blueness” and “redness” to reveal lands divided between Star Bellied Sneetches and Plain Bellied Sneetches, GIS tools, complicating the oppositions of the data visualization.  Ways of opening up these divides over time, suggested by the comparison between the after-images Gannett’s map evinced and the image that was echoed, as if it captured either a figural expression and emotional posture of the country.

The attempt at creating an atlas of data visualizations, comparing different paper maps, would extend to a chronological ordering of the shifting spaces of political affiliations that the quadrennial recurrence of presidential elections would allow.  The terrestrial geographic map of the United States white carries intense contiguous azures in select spots and a roughly rosy interior, David Sparks found, adopting a uniformity of colors to earlier political parties and mapping how political affiliations shifted over one hundred plus years since the Civil War–or roughly from the time of Gannett’s map.  Sparks’ chronologically collapsed isarithmic map of continuous coloration suggests some continuities among voters from 1876 to 2008, if it contains multiple narratives in voting habits by predictable fuzziness in electoral allegiances for most of the country.  But the condensation Sparks devised in a video and collective synthesis reveals a proclivity among states below the thirty-seventh parallel, rendered even fuzzier in the synoptic one-minute animated graphic crafted from multiple frames from 1920 to 2008, whose animated choropleth reveals clear preserves of one-party voting, almost as if regions were inhabited by the ghosts of earlier political preferences. And the replication of the latitudinal divide immediately strikes the viewer, despite its almost air-brushed quality:

isarithmic election map 2008Many divides in maps are frustratingly opaque as they are read over time, and after-images difficult to discern, but political scientists indulge in this sort of mapping, as if in an attempt to invest historical dimensions to the individual data visualizations.  Sparks’ synthesis also interestingly compares, when extended to 2012, to the county-by-county parsing of the Romney-Obama presidential election, in which blue democratic counties spun out in the Southern cities and in the Southwest in ways that broke an earlier landscape of opposition, but which a simple geographic distribution can no longer explain, given the population density of many of the regions of the map in the Northeast and Pacific coast colored blue, a distortion mirrored the unique mosaic of votes in the Midwest and Florida–


County-by-county 2012

-.although a cartogrammic warping of the same election by population reflects the same deeply dyed blue divide of the Northeast, area around Lake Michigan, and West, and an ominous shrinkage of the population of red lands

County-by-county cartogram 2012Mark E. J. Neuman, University of Michigan

 

The variability of party preferences suggests the irregularity of the blanketing of red states across the interior around 2000–elections which first provoked an actually anomalous red state vs. blue state geography of polarization:  voting patterns from 1920 to 2008 chart electoral preference moves like swells across the country in improbable waves that appear driven by a combination of fashion and circumstance, as much as different areas of work or economic relationships of a fixed geography:

But if temporal synthesis muddies topographic variations in the political landscape, mapping regional electoral preference in presidential contests from 1876 to 2008 effectively define loose contours around the South–and the red blur around Salt Lake City–from the blue-leaning industrialized cities in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west.  The after-image of Reconstruction extends to the longstanding disenfranchisement of African-American voters, still evident in the recent redistricting of Alabama voters.  Despite some shifts, the landscape is recognizable:   “after-images” are not shared memories or distinct allegiances transmitted across generations, but rather reveal evidence the continued impact of removed experiences, per their resonance until they might be said to eventually fade from the picture in which they first created such strong stimuli.

The latitudinal divide that has inscribed itself on the landscape reveals itself best in maps of fine grain–but that in due course diminishes to vanishes, or mutates into new divides.  After all, the divide is not linked to the terrain; it is perhaps even best revealed in the truly compelling (and dynamic) Tableau visualization of the 2012 election’s translation to the elector college that Adam McCann created, which creates something like a distinct sea of Red below the very same conceptual divide:

2012 Tableaux

The Tableau map perhaps best reflects the national division emerging among states adopting laws not mandating that employees join unions–seen widely as anti-worker laws with the most pernicious result of endangering pensions and benefits, increasingly adopted (or introduced) as explicitly pro-business measures.

 

%22Right%22 to Work Map

 

%22right%22 to work laws in antion

 

 

Conclusion:  Re-Examining the Geography and History of Gannett’s Map

In contest, the mapping of the popular vote after the Civil War responded to a specific localized crisis in chorographic representation.  By giving the spatial distribution of the popular vote for the 1880 election in readable form, Gannett explained the problematic electoral divide–a divide far more salient and problematic than most other periods of the blurred lines of the red-white-and-blue airbrushing of the lower forty-eight that Professor Sparks devised, and that reveal a crisis in political representation–as well as chart the depth of the after-image of Secession in the era of Reconstruction.  Their close proximity to the aftermath of the war led them to create a clear mirror of the political  debates of Reconstruction and in the years before the 1880 election that Republican candidate James Garfield won, but by barely claiming a razor-thin majority of the popular vote, that the statistical battery of the distribution he had at hand caused him to produce a compelling explanation of the vagaries of an electoral system much of the nation’s voters didn’t fully grasp or comprehend–especially since the results of previous 1876 election had been inverted not by the electoral institution but by the Senate’s compromise.

Gannett acted as something like the cartographical conscious of the divided nation by mapping how the translation of popular to electoral votes restored a coherent if deeply fragmented sense of community–although one that also provided a basis for future after-images of a divide.  For Gannett set out to create such a statistical map that explained the Republican victory in ways that could be readily digested by a larger audience, to be sure familiar with territorial maps as illustrations of the continuity of the new country, but less sure of how to reconcile that very continuity with the obstinate divisions between political parties who divided around issues of Reconstruction and slavery that the war had provoked.

Political polarization has previously characterized the American political landscape for some time, albeit in quite different guises-in ways that revealed the relatively recent divide between Republican and Democrats within the recent popular vote of 1880 as truly stark.  The intensity of given counties’ deepest opposition to the Republican platform that advocated Reconstruction as even more intense than Republican support was in much of the north:  although the map is, most prominently, a record of the rejection of secession, and election of a Republican president–Garfield–so used are we to seeing such topographies of opposition in the most recent electoral maps, we almost reflexively detect a steep opposition in counties across Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia as well as Virginia:  the divide immediately catches the viewer’s eye, and data “speaks clearly” to the viewer, given the sophisticated ways that Gannet, as the Superintendent of the Census, used tools of line engraving to calibrate the intensity of voting preference–Republican or Democratic–to map a topography of preference in his map six deepening hues of red, ranging from light pink to deep carmine, or from baby blue to deep azure, saturating counties different colors to reveal the intensity of their inclinations in a stunningly clear topography of majoritarian divides whose modernity immediately strikes us as considerably refined parsing of the popular vote by color coding the proportional distribution of the vote per county for his readers.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

KEY Rep:DemLibrary of Congress

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625Library of Congress

 

The United States was effectively redrawn, in the redolently patriotic topography of red, white, and blue that both respected local variations even as it recognized a landscape of continuing political differences.  In ways that use of the artifice by which electoral maps can resolve the outcome of contested Presidential contests, the map proves something of an emblem that can be glossed so as to unite the country even after he most bitter divides.  The post-civil war divide during Reconstruction occasioned what Schulten calls “the ancient map that invented Red and Blue states,” as an economic way to describe the different levels of support of each party, and the limited rootedness of that support across geographic divides.

It also reveals the increasing authority of data sciences and statistical mapping as a means of understanding and distilling a complex moment of political change–we can excuse her for dating ‘ancient’ from the burst of statistical maps of early big data in the late nineteenth century, when statistical geography tried to reconcile the big data with the need for images of national unity, although if they offer an early precursor of the hunger for data,  they remain distinct from the less refined skills of visual discrimination that were used in early twenty-first century computer-assisted graphics, and the recent proliferation of their explanatory force.  While the Gannett map reflects the authority of the engraved map as a form of understanding the nation in the mid-nineteenth century, based on new techniques of lithography, to clarify pressing questions of continued national coherence, the fad for the data-visualization–an artifact with deep roots in the nightly news–provoked a search for the selective criteria that best summarized national divides which effectively removed the nation from its past.

Questions of wrestling with American identity from a deeply historical perspective had arisen during Reconstruction because the Republican party had allied its anti-slavery platform as  preserving the integrity of the nation and as the centenary provoked historical perspectives on national identity; the measurement and digestion of recent historical events in graphical guise, Schulten reveals, provides an early form of the info graphic, adopting recent techniques of shading in color lithography to process the popular vote of 1880 in which nine million Americans had voted, and the victor, Republican James Garfield, drew only 7,000 more votes nationwide than his Democratic opponent.  For Schulten, the innovative statistical map of such fine resolution newly “enabl[ed] Americans to visualize the spatial dynamics of political power”–or an election’s results–as it “more systematically measured” election returns, “showing a nation organized not according to railroads and towns, or mountains and rivers”–mapping the vote across counties at a fine grain that invited viewers to navigate and note salient divides in the political landscape that was still haunted by Secession.

The map provided a basis to materially render a political divide in ways that materialize the electorate’s distribution.  Gannett’s map is also striking for how it registers something of an “after-image” of succession, as much as it preserved an image of national unity.  The map offered an image of representational democracy–in which an election could be determined by but 7,000 votes, or shifts in several counties in New York State–in other words presents a new problem of unity, and of Republican dominance after the Civil War.  The map responded to significant uncertainty about the continued integrity of a nation by a Republic president after the election–the cartoonist Thomas Nast seems to have foreseen their electoral victory in a comic news map, representing a sturdy behemoth elephant that would carry the nation, but which obscured its eyesight, piercing Maine and California to balance the midwest on its broad back:  “The Republican Animal Will Carry It,” Nast foretold in a brief legend–the prolific political cartoonist who had long despaired at Republican compromise with the south was displeased by Garfield, but resisted commentary and conceded that the elephant was laden with the map it would carry, and drew few more cartoons about the election.

 

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Gannett let statistics speak eloquently in graphic form to explain how the narrow election translated into electoral victory.  The spatial dynamics his map reveals itself presents a detailed after-images of former slave-holding Southern states–in the continued intensity of popular opposition to the Republican candidate.  Although the narrowness of the margin of victory Garfield won in the popular vote–still the smallest in American history–translated into a handy electoral college victory, the map revealed the continued dominance of opponents of the Republican party in the south, here gauged by the intensity of their opposition:   the two-color chart reveals not only the intensity of deep carmine distrust of Lincoln’s Republicans, but calibrate the intensity of opposition county by county, as if to document the efficiency of the suppression of the votes or voice of many former slaves and free African Americans, now enfranchised by the Fifteenth Amendment–save those Republican redoubts where they were possibly more effectively mobilized by those blacks who had returned to the South during Reconstruction.

The divisions that then defined the electoral landscape still held clear marks of Southern secession, traces evident in the fields of crimson bridge the symbolic and empirical.  In an age of digital mapping and data visualizations, readers are often invited to tease out as lines fracturing the political landscape.  The local variations in the voting patterns, Gannett sought to reveal, clearly translated into blocks of red in the electoral map he prominently inset in the large national map at its foot, revealing how the nation seemed broken into two competing constituencies.  The map has special resonance in light of the narrowly resolved election of 1876.  Indeed, the map came tacitly seems to come to terms with the divided electorate in that presidential contest, between Democratic Senator Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford Hayes, where the vast majority of Southern states had voted against Hayes and for Tilden, as in 1880, but rather than leaving the vote to Congress, Gannet’s tabulation of the vote with precision elegantly resolved a narrow popular vote, but served to explain the spatial distribution resulted in a clear winner.

The map offers an early precursor of the recent divide between “Blue” and “Red” states, Schulten noted, but serves to illustrate not only a divide but the resolution of a divided electorate through the political process.  The map appears to resolve a newly opened chasm within the electorate, and to hope to resolve that gap in ways that readers could process as they ordered out the county-by-county tendency of the bitterly contested popular vote that determined a race that seemed as if it could go either way as the popular vote was tabulated–and which staged a drama that demanded resolution in a more conclusive cartographical form.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The clear variations in a something of spectrum of light blues and light pinks that was so specific to Gannett’s map was interestingly not retained in the inset map of electoral votes–at first sight Minnesota and Vermont were deepest blue, and Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina deep red, but this only suggests the distribution of electoral votes by shading states in graduated tones to show the popular vote.

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625Library of Congress

 

The divisions of the country by political preference were, in the end, less accentuated than its unity.  Republicans had cast themselves as the party of saving the union in 1876, and the preservation of the Union remained on the front burner of American political culture during the divisive presidential election of 1880, which was in ways a contentious repeat of the resolution of a country divided by Reconstruction.  As US Census Superintendent, Gannett devised the project of compiling a highly detailed county-by-county account of the distribution of the national popular vote of 1880 whose publication was designed to overcome division by registering the depth of votes for the Republican candidate, Garfield, that made his victory–if actually as narrow as that of his predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, itself resolved only by the electoral college–a form of affirming the electoral system as well as a persuasive statistical synthesis, presenting the results of the electoral map in ways that viewers could readily process.

It has to provoke pause that a similar latitudinal divide across the United States continues to haunt the mapping of distinct local levels of taxation on as quotidian a commodity as gasoline by similar forms of shading.  For the gas-tax latitudinal divide not only maps questions of taxation; the status of taxing gas taxes maps a region marked by federal suspicion:  the divide in states’ boundaries registers deep continuities in attitudes toward the political acceptability of introducing a further local taxes that would hamper access to what is taken as a marketplace right.  And the picture of a deep divide that the presidential election of 1880 created as sharply defined precedent as any to trace through the stark shift in public priorities and notions of good government revealed in the Exxon-Mobil gasoline tax map not only “explains a lot” about the United States, as American Petroleum Institute blogger Ken Cohen offered, but traces a continued after-image of secession.  Discussing the haunting of the info-graphic with a removed divide that seems uncannily present in the map itself, will be the subject of a set of future posts in this blog.  For the demographic divides that the map instated left the union haunted by stark divides that at times seem burned into our collective consciousness.  Maps bear traces of the collective experiences with which entire nations wrestle in the modern era, where big data offers the basis to take the temperature of national unity.

 

 

Gas Tax

 

gas key

 

The recent election in Scotland, to be sure, suggests less of a trace of the past in its distribution of the popular vote or a continued mark of an electoral divide in the UK’s political culture.  With thirty-two of thirty-two reporting, the referendum of 2014 reveals less of a divide than an uneasiness of self-segregation, or uncertainty of autonomy, despite a clear vote around Glasgow.

 

Scots Referencum

 BBC

 

Despite longstanding notions of Scottish separatism, in addition to the difficulties of rejecting the continued benefits of union, and the promise of its institutions, the absence of a separate political culture or perhaps of an existing after-image of separatism on which separatists could draw to mobilize their cause.

The fear that the tax-resisting California Drivers’ Alliance has stoked to mobilize against a hidden gas tax set to take effect in 2015, as part of the state’s efforts to expand the cap-and-trade program, is promised to be poised to put the squeeze on drivers who find themselves at the pump of up to 76 cents per gallon,  as if this were an entirely unwanted and unwarranted imposition on consumers–a point on which the Wall Street Journal readily agrees might prompt “an immediate jump in prices at the pump” onerous to the poor, to raise needed funds for carbon permit auctions.  The rise of this pro-industry if non-partisan community-based movement is based on a similar rhetoric of fear–evident in the forecasting of a loss of jobs that would result of some 18,000–justifies itself on the charge of failing to protect consumers in a similar rejection of representational democracy that has not heard the “pleas of California drivers who will be hurt by higher fuel prices” as if it would only create a “slush fund” for politicians disconnected from their constituents’ needs and are intent on curtailing public debate.  The basis of separatism has less of precedent in the state, however, where there is less recognition in a deeply “blue” state of a discourse of local autonomy and self-interestedness, and far less currency or symbolic capital of mapping the state as an entity apart.

Anyone who has made it this far and seeks more on the visualization of national unity in Gannett’s 1880 map can continue here; and is invited to look at Susan Schulten’s exemplary website, a companion to Mapping the Nation.  For those with an appetite to consider of the survival of the Gas-Tax Latitudinal divide in recent info-graphics betraying an after-image of the divide Gannett first commemorated, do look here.

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Filed under data visualizations, Ferguson MO, GIS, infographic, Michael Brown, Rand Paul, Red states v. Blue States

Pumpkin Patches

Pumpkin production is difficult to map onto the celebration of Halloween.  For the celebration of what was once celebrated as All Hallow’s Eve has morphed into a feat of mass-marketing and commercial sales from haunted houses to Halloween Stores like Spirit Halloween–“the largest seasonal national Halloween retailer”–or Party City–making up a projected 7.4 billion dollar business.  And the celebration of the Halloween, long dislodged from the liturgical calendar, has become so clearly part of a commercial more than an agrarian calendar that, if the pumpkin remains the crucial signifier, it’s a floating one, and it is almost hard to remember that pumpkin cultivation was once rooted in an agrarian geography or growing climates, so much is the business of Halloween now measured by metrics like “candy price inflation.”

Yet as much as the Google Maps locator of Spirit Halloween retailers leaves the country awash in a purple confetti of markers, it seems still important to examine the economy of the landscape of pumpkin production that perhaps still undergirds it all.

 

Spirit Store Halloween

 

Pumpkin production has so surpassed needs that the squandering of an abundance of gourds in supermarkets seems an apt metaphor for the over-the-top nature of Halloween.  Currently, indeed some millions of pounds of seasonal decorations are annually destined for compost or landfill as are most of the 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins US farmers produce yearly–and some 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin are disposed of in British waste bins, creating “food waste on a grand scale.”  So drastic is the association of the pumpkin with food waste to provoke to a drive to squash food waste (#pumpkinrescue) by the environmental group Hubbub, who find that the amount of pumpkins going to the trash constitutes about 360 million portions of pumpkin pie.  (And so, similarly eco-conscious Madison WI’s Yard Waste Collection uses boldface to urge its customers, “You can also place your pumpkins with your leaves for collection.  Just add your pumpkins to your leave pile and they will be composted.“)  For the US Dept. of Energy, in an interesting improvisation, the pumpkin has become something of an icon of the project for turning food waste to methane gas, rather than trick-or-treating for candy at Halloween.

All this might be too pessimistic in its remove from the celebration’s participatory value, however, in its focus on agricultural and food waste that so removes the pumpkin from any ritual context.  Before the pumpkin became illuminated that evening, Halloween Apple Bob (or apple dookin) provided the ritual sight for rites of courtship and celebration of fertility around indoor fires.  It’s difficult to know how to map how the celebration collided with the harvest of autumn gourd, and the transformation of the hearth to the pumpkin-head, and Halloween became a season that generated the most expenditures on decorations save Christmas.  (While the evening was once marked by the Apple Bob, the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Hannukah-Christmas-New Year Buying Season marks its integration into a commercial season.)

 

J._M._Wright_-_Edward_Scriven_-_Robert_Burns_-_Halloween

 

But it might be worthwhile to map the rootedness of the pumpkin plants in the ground.

Before pumpkins were associated with food waste, the gourd enjoyed staying power both as a food–pies, soups, muffins, and puddings–as well as carving out objects of domestic decoration.  The crowding of pumpkin festivals clustered in dense patches in northern California and across the Northeast are linked to agrarian growing zones–even larger ones, since despite Google Maps’ restriction to the United States in the below, over 5000 hectares devoted to pumpkin growing in Canada make pumpkins an extremely important staple for Ontario farmers–even if only 8% seem destined for canning, or decisively non-decorative use.

 

map-of-pumpkin-festivals-locations

 

The native status of the pumpkin hardly guaranteed the remaking of Halloween in America.

Ruth Edna Kelley argued that with the adoption of guising–“What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”–“All Hallowe’en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries” in her 1919 Book of Hallowe’en.  Yet the pumpkin seems an decidedly American innovation–Robert Burns didn’t include even one in his 1785 Scots-English poem of some twenty-eight stanzas–despite the long history of Jack o’ Lanterns.  Despite Scottish origins of “All Hallow’s E’en,” the pumpkin seems a subsequent American addition–probably postdating Washington Irving’s 1820 Headless Horseman who pursued Ichabod Crane, and long before the holiday grew into the over 7.4 billion dollar business it constitutes in the United States, on which the average American will spend $77.52, up from $75.03 last year, including costumes, candy and fearful decorations–some $350 million of which is spent on costumes on pets.

 

Hessian Horseman

 

What now inaugurates a commercial season provides an excuse for splurging may have had more modest origins, nice to map back onto the distribution of the gourd. The pumpkinization of trick-or-treating might be linked to the marketing of Halloween postcards in the early twentieth century–and sale of Halloween decorations was only introduced after World War I at Woolworths and Kresge’s–but the celebration of trick-or-treating now seems inseparable from ritualized nocturnal illumination of the hand-cut squash.

 

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It is easy to forget trick-or-treating was ever closely tied to the agrarian calendar of harvest in an era of year-round fruits and vegetables.  And the pumpkin seems a Halloween icon of the New World.  But even with the omnipresence of SpiritHalloween stores that dot the nation, always advertised on billboards, it’s nice to remember regional differentiation of zones of pumpkin production–and variations of pumpkin cultivation on which we rely even in an era of industrial farming.  And even if turnips and rutabagas were a choice of Jack O’ Lanterns in Ireland, and other squash were used abroad, the pumpkin is an artifact of globalization, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Japan to Australia to Hong Kong, we remain rooted in its growing regions.

 

pumpkincropproductionmap

 

The global march of the Halloween pumpkin knows no clear bounds.

(Note that even if the US is a big pumpkin cultivator–with most growing in Illinois, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, and New York state, feeding a market of Halloween needs, far more are growing in China or India, where they are more of a staple of edible consumption, as well as Africa–where Rwanda and South Africa collectively grow over half as many as the US–and, per capita, far exceed it, as does Mexico.

 

 

gitn_1118_NGS-Pumpkins

 

 

While we think of pumpkin as a New World squash, it is truly global–far more global than Halloween.)

But it’s also deeply local on the edible end of things among those who associate the fruit with tortellini.  After all, the perimeter of the elegant culinary inclusion of pumpkins in pasta remains localized along the Po Valley in ways that seem constrained by the limits of their cultivation, which dates soon after the importation of the seeds from the New World–although the end-product of tortellini di zucca are also globally commoditized, though they might even inspire some to make pilgrimages to Mantua or Parma to taste them.

 

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While they might remain localized as edible delicacies for some, prized for that sugary melt-in-your-mouth buttery taste of pumpkin boiled in folded triangles of pasta,  the costumed rite of Trick-or-Treating is mostly about belonging, and recreating the community in a community even in the guise of avatars and ghouls.

It is difficult to draw a map of the celebration of the evening or a global geography of its observation.  To be sure, the growth of regular Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios over over three weeks from mid-September, replete both with haunted houses and including vignettes from recent horror films, and complete with live “scareactors” and replete with references to films from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th to Doomsday, has spread a fundamentally filmic experience of Halloween readily reproduced within Universal branches to Hong Kong and Singapore from Orlando–and encouraged global interest in Halloween as a multi-day media spectacular clearly designed more for adults than children.

 

 

Universal-Orland

 

Despite a big stir about the global reach of a holiday that has been so aggressively commoditized in America, we might be less shocked by the currency of the holiday as a sign of a globalized culture or artifact of Americanization than see Halloween as residue of an omnipresent media presence which there’s no clear way to map in geographic terms–and where the hollowed out squash simply grabs visual attention on the world wide web and provides an iconic way to mark commercial time, where it becomes an icon of calendrical time even on the web.

 

googlepump

 

The currency of the carved pumpkin head made for a popular Google doodle.  But the image was not separated from the act of carving away those gourds in the smashing debut in the quick carving of those massive pumpkin heads outside Google HQ in 2011 Halloween Doodle, in something of a sly reference to the agrarian origins of the region, and its proximity to the pumpkin patches of Mountain View, Hollister, and Santa Cruz where so many Northern California pumpkins are grown:  for the very same time-lapse clip of carving pumpkins  rooted Halloween in the site-specific rite of pumpkin-carving before dusk, set to an antic soundtrack of preparing huge pumpkins for sunset.

The clip seems to suggests the mobility of a rite that can be readily restaged wherever ripe pumpkins are available to be carved up and illuminated to mark All Hallow’s Eve.

 

Pumpkin Doodle

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Filed under #pumpkinrescue, Halloween, Halloween geography, Halloween Horror Nights, Mapping Pumpkin Production, Pumpkin patches, pumpkin-carving, pumpkin-growing, Robert Burns, Spirit Halloween stores, squash food waste, tortellini

Mapping Feline Itineraries

Among crowd-sourced mapping projects, Cat Tracker is something of an innovation:  rather than map a human environment, it is dedicated to mapping the motions of specific outdoor cats–their individual, day-by-day itineraries–rather than create something like a comprehensive map of a region, such as the HOT (Humanitarian Open Street Map Team) mapping of West Africa to track cases of Ebola.  But the mechanics of mapping are strikingly similar, if perhaps not destined for a larger audience.  While the HOT team uses the Bing imagery to trace a set of shape-files on different quadrants of Liberia or Sierra Leone, high-accuracy GPS sensors attached to the harnesses of individual cats provide the overlay for maps of cities to which they are resident, so one can imagine the regular radius of their strolls.

 

Cat Migration

 

User experience designer Alex Lee took the time to track his own cat’s motion by an attachable GPS sensor, tracing his motion around a London neighborhood over a few days to track her explorations around his home.

 

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Where Kitty might go might be quite restricted, and be ompholocentrically concentrated about where she can count on being fed.  Researchers had earlier argued in 2011 that the meanderings of domestic cats are far more spatially restricted or circumspect than the zones of feral cats, one of whom roamed over 1,350 acres in rural areas–the domesticated cat only roamed in the area designated yellow, or usually less than two acres:

 

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The issues of the rise of feral cats, and the danger of zoonotic transmission of protozoal diseases like toxoplasmosis is a serious issue that is only increased by the considerable breadth of their geographic wanderings.

The availability of sensor-laden harnesses to fit domestic cats with accurate GPS sensors has most rapidly expanded, however, and provoked a parsing of feline itineraries that might strike some as just TMI–although they carry the promise to provide a better sense of how cats interact with their urban environments, and engagement with urban wildlife.  While the initial tracking of cats might map as something like noise–

 

crittercam restricted

 

an image of itineraries over several days might distinguish paths or even register that one time that the cat’s owners were out of town, and their pet made an itinerary to their old house in the hope of finding food when it could not locate them otherwise, traveling unerringly for almost a full mile.

 

Big Feline Excursion

 

Creating a more complicated overlay distinguishing different days allows one to trace a clear record of the cat’s relation to its environment–and the potential incursions cats make into the wooded areas around towns such as Raleigh, NC, where  Cat Tracker has posted feline itineraries mapped with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and an online database dedicated to tracking animal movement, Movebank.

 

 

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Tallulah K seems to have been attracted by a variety of surrounding rural prey or targets, but avoided most major roads:

 

Talllulah K

 

Sometimes cat travels seem to record instances driven by car, as a record of feline meanderings over multiple days shown below.  (It is unlikely, if possible, that cat space and human space were so completely congruent.)

 

Cat-TrackerCat Tracker

 

Similar results of GPS tracking, perhaps especially entertaining to cat-owners who let their felines  out of doors and wonder about their whereabouts, might provide a composite map of cats from different houses in a single neighborhood, in an attempt to find out what cat-roaming was about, or if it followed any particular logic at all–or what their relations might be called one another’s routes.

 

_68110711_catsmapRoyal Veterinary College, Structure & Motion Lab

 

The maps tracked by the Royal Veterinary College offer a basis to answer questions of how cat space maps onto human space, as much as to merely document feline itineraries.

Mapping cats in Surrey may seem like a bizarre surveillance of the domesticated:

 

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Despite the sense that the signs tracking cats have limited legibility, do they signify a premonition of things to come?  On the one hand, this seems an extension of our own expectations for tracking and searching geographic locations.  Mapping seems to have its own logic here, providing the very terms by which we can undertake the variety of projects that technology allows.  Perhaps we’re experimentally using our technologies on our allegedly domesticated animals, as we affix ankle-bracelets with GPS trackers onto sex offenders, and map their residence and whereabouts, at the same as we get used to being tracked ourselves.

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Filed under Cat Tracker, cats, data overlays, Feral Cats, GPS, GPS Sensors, Movebank, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, OpenStreetMap, Royal Veterinary College, Structure and Motion Lab, toxoplasmosis, zoonotic diseases

1.2 Million Lego Pieces Map Imprisonment Worldwide

The specific choice of site created a specific sense of synergy with Ai Weiwei’s @Large, inspiring the artist to map symbolic connections between the decaying and often cavernous physical structures of the high-security prison with a global geography of confinement of prisoners of conscience.  Perhaps the largest site-specific mixed-media work of art ever planned off-site, in “@Large” Ai Weiwei reflects on the structures of imprisonment on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay in order to map imprisonment worldwide within its sparse and often ominously cavernous structures.  The ambition of remapping the collective experience of imprisonment on the abandoned world-famous prison and transforming the long unused structures into a site to commemorate prisoners of conscience would not seem a subject likely to be upbeat.  Former areas of prison surveillance, many off-limits to tourists to the former penitentiary, have been opened for the occasioned and are filled with various forms of meditating on global issues of individual confinement.

In an age when the solitary structures of Alcatraz–confinement rooms; a laundry building; a block of cells–might be visited as historical artifacts, the innovative ways that the structure has been effectively re-imagined to reflect on its former use, whose elements stand in close dialogue with the removed and isolated structure of the prison island.  Despite never visiting the prison itself (the multi-media sculptures were assembled by his studio assistants, and site was described to the artist), this exhibit is itself, as For-Site’s founder Cheryl Haines realized, an exercise in imagining creative capacities of one confined.   The result, even if achieved without the artist’s presence at the island, is also a testament to the global reach of creativity–whose engagement of concerns about state-mandated confinement cannot help but recall the dissident artist’s own eighty-one day long detainment by military police whose “mental torture” of confinement he still remembers so well.

 

Thor Swift:NYT--Cheryl Haines For-SiteThor Swift/NY Times

 

Even though Ai could not set foot the crumbling and once-imposing carceral structures of Alcatraz for which seven of his works were conceived and planned, he uses its buildings as an expansive canvas for a series of engaging works about confinement in quite inventive ways, so that its location and site becomes a sort of stage rather than simply an exhibition space.  For the installation profits from the re-imagining of a space of confinement that long stood removed in San Francisco Bay, opening the former prison to a public space for reflecting on worldwide issues of imprisonment.  In repopulating several historic buildings of imprisonment with works of art, the artist ambitiously invites visitors to imagine the long-closed high-security prison as a space that the globally incarcerated symbolically inhabit.  The plan to use Alcatraz island, now a park, as a staging-ground for a sculptural intervention was planned by the San Francisco-based For-Site, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of new spaces for public art.

The manner that he used Alcatraz as a site to universalize a meditation on imprisonment–and individual resistance–re-maps the topography of incarceration worldwide in ways that embrace a globalized culture.  The commission includes as its centerpiece an almost monumental ground mosaic of colored Lego in one room, but expands across six structures in multimedia sculptures and music.  Its planning no doubt occasioned broad research on the experience of confinement by Ai, who was jailed and remains under house arrest:  the artworks that extend across the cells in A Block, the old Dining Hall, Hospital and so-called New Industries Building exploit their unique site to try to describe the experience of confinement.   At the expansive exhibit’s center lies “Trace,” six rows of portraits of individuals imprisoned or confined because of their beliefs in a large room’s pavement in colored Lego, separated by paths to recall photo-strips or being seen through bars to evoke the prison island’s tradition of solitary confinement.  In an international gallery of faces of the imprisoned, if one slightly skewed to Asia, Ai alerts us to a global map of unjust imprisonment by a sequence of faces rendered in the international industrial idiom of colored Lego, whose forms, “easily destroyed and taken apart, ready to be remade and reimagined,” as Ai Weiwei told The New York Times, provide new tools to repopulate the island and to remind us of global problems of imprisonment.  As if as a surrogate for the prisoners Alcatraz prison once housed from 1934 to 1963, the ingeniously arranged raised rows of plastic portraits in “Trace” transform a site associated with solitary confinement to a microcosm of unjustly imprisoned people worldwide.

 

la-a-view-of-trace-by-ai-weiwei-at-alcatraz-20140925Carmen A. Miranda/LA Times

 

Floor LegosMike Chino/Inhabit

 

It is necessary to approach Alcatraz island by boat across San Francisco Bay to see the exhibit.  The transit reminds one the cordoned preserve of the former high-security federal prison was an island of confinement, and one’s approach to something like a sacred site or shrine.  In an attempt to disrupt the once-oppressive monumentality of the prison structures, Ai has filled the  complex with a level of sculptural creativity that challenges one to process the experience of carceral confinement itself–and worldwide phenomenon of imprisonment.  Other pieces are only able to be viewed from a balcony, or through the still-broken windows of the spaces of confinement which one is often forced to navigate while moving among the seven other sculptures within the ruins of a now-abandoned prison island; surrounded by old penitentiary windows that are often broken, one scans the expansive commemorative mosaic of profiles of men and women imprisoned for their beliefs–each of its 1.2 million individual pieces of colored plastic pieces of Lego arranged as if to constitute a  map of human rights violations or a gallery of individual portraits of prisoners of conscience; elsewhere, one listens to the music of musicians who have meditated on imprisonment or whose work is associated with their own imprisonment, from Pussy Riot to Fela Kuti, piped into Cell Block A, or Hopi and Buddhist chants from the Namgyal monastery of Dharamsala in the prison’s old isolation rooms–in the aural sculpture, “Stay Tuned.”  It might have worked well to find these aspects better integrated, but the topography of the prison nicely isolates specific aspects of imprisonment.

 

Cell Block %22A%22Jan Stürmen

 

Bars of PortraitsJan Stürmen

 

The combination Ai creates of global culture continues a spirit of resistance to the confinement of the prison spaces of Alcatraz’s largely nineteenth-century military fortress, to raise “questions of confinement that resonate far beyond this place.”  While universal in its scope, and daunting in its ambitions, Ai clearly worked from his own experience of the conditions of penitentiary confinement and his particular interest in music as a means of “release” from the restrictions of the site:  “During my detention,” he remembered, “the conditions were very restrictive, but the guards would often secretly ask me to sing for them. Being in that environment makes me realize that for these people, the only available release or means to kill time, is music. I felt deeply sorry that I couldn’t do it, either I was not in the mood or I didn’t think I can sing. The only songs I knew were the revolutionary ones. It is the same for many Chinese people; we had to memorize every red song.  Creating music is a way to break through that situation.”  The mutation of a space of confinement to one of release–and indeed one of mapping a geography of imprisonment worldwide by a set of puzzle-like portraits of prisoners of conscience–serves as almost a meditation on the nature of confinements and human resilience.  Curator Cheryl Haines recalls that after she first proposed Ai use a prison as a site to work in 2011, Ai responded simply “Yes.  I would like that.”

The work remakes the famous carceral space in continuously creative ways.

 

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The intense isolation of the former site of confinement must have particularly appealed to an artist now forbidden from travel.  Ai must indeed have been attracted to working within a space of imprisonment whose structures were a monument of confinement as an opportunity to bridge his own experience of imprisonment, to which he often refers and reflected deeply on, to the way creativity can disrupt the experience of incarceration in a prison island that lay just a mile and a quarter from inhabited shores.  The prison island that famously lies at a remove in the depths of San Francisco Bay, the former prison colony was not only surrounded by bathymetric depths daunting to cross, over a mile from shore, standing as a metaphor for a global carceral network, whose fame as a site of staging attempted historical escapes stands in odd contrast to the quiet, peaceful surroundings of a home for nesting migrating birds, cormorants, and seagulls, reminding us of the etymology of the name of the island as a site for seabirds, alcatrases, or pelicans.  Ai gestures to the discontinuity between the site’s history and location in how the large bird-like colored paper kites, winged mixed media sculptures, and piped-in soundtracks either directly or obliquely reference the spaces of imprisonment in what was once a federal high-security prison, isolated in the Bay and surrounded by deep waters.

 

Alcatraz Is.

 

Isolated in Entrance to sf bay

 

The odd juxtaposition of an island that lasted for over a century still provides a monument to mass confinement, a “notorious penitentiary” from which no one ever escaped, which held some of the most hardened criminals from 1934 to 1963, provides a perfect site in which to excavate the experience of imprisonment, and for Ai Weiwei to invite the voices of those imprisoned to speak.

 

alcatraz

 

 

Isolated in Entrance to sf bayDetail from Rumsey Historical Maps, “Blossom Rock” (1859)

 

After the end of an era with closure of the prison in 1963, the complex became a tourist site that was a butt of jokes–“Having a Wonderful Time/Wish You Were Here!”–reflecting the unease with which it was known both among criminals and in popular jargon as “the Rock” as a space of isolation, whose remove in the Bay Area, surrounded by deep waters, made it an object of fascination more as a site of planning impossible escapes.  Its twelve acres incarnated an image of a penal colony in the United States.

 

Final Lockdown

 

Butt of Jokes in bathymetric blue

 

So legendary was the self-contained space of imprisonment that the fourteen failed attempted escapes from the federal prison were each catalogued as if each constituted independent but epic micro-narratives:

 

es-map

 

The mosaic that is the centerpiece to “@Large” invites viewers to join in a collective act of remembering to interrogate the nature of imprisonment in a famous structure of confinement, by mapping a reminder of global human rights violations–as well as the globalization of the practice of confinement–in a somewhat unavoidably overwhelming ways.

Ai Weiwei rebranded the notion of the prison’s space for an exhibition that evoked the possibility of spaciousness.

 

Branded wings--Liberty is about our rights to question everything

 

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Despite some criticisms of the constrained positions of confinement with which visitors are invited to engage the sculptures from a balcony, and of the distractions of comprehending its content or fulfilling obligations of identifying an overwhelming 176 portraits of the mass of figures exiled or imprisoned because of beliefs, as an artist Ai must have been drawn to the notion of remapping a carceral network of global proportions.  Indeed, his organization of works of art in the “retired” prison that he made Alcatraz a newly defined capital of imprisonment and incarceration, in ways that redraw the relations between local and global Ai has long been sensitive in works such as “World Map” (2006-2009)–reflecting, it has been suggested, to the disparities of global circulation of commodities, to the artificial bases of its cartographical division into discrete units.  “China,” Ai said, comparing his craft to its industrial over-production, “is blindly producing for the demands of the world market . . . .  I’m part of it, which is a bit of nonsense.”  (China is the world’s largest producer of cotton textiles and clothes, and sheets of cotton are lain atop one another in this three-dimensional rendering of a world map.)

 

p4889-0488

 

The contrast between a historical resonance of a space of confinement built by a range of a limited and constrained medium as Lego contrast with the expansive outdoor sculptures in the complex.  Ai is a transgressive juxtapositions of craft by trade, and has offered a hybrid form of 80 square-meter “maps” of China made from 1,800 jars of infant milk formula of differently colored labels, “Baby Formula 2013,” as a pixellated map of China’s thirty regions, whose creation coincided with  deep worries about the safety of Chinese-made infant formula in China that made Hong Kong into a “safe-site” to buy formula–or his mapping China from fragments of Tieli wood from destroyed Qing era temples–which, as his repainted Neolithic vases, raise questions of art and cultural property.

 

vase

 

The counting of the killed, as #aiflowers, which invited all to place a flower that remembered the children among victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that were consequences of shoddy hurried construction of unreinforced structures, provided a similar participatory focus and intent.

 

hashtag_aiflowers-624x416

 

The map that Ai creates in @ Large is more metaphorical in nature, but similarly ambitious in its expressive aims.  If situated in the buildings of Alcatraz island, the sculpture addresses practices of imprisonment worldwide–if it gestures, no doubt, to the growing prison population in the United States, as well as the probably under-reported numbers of the prison population in China.

 

Prisoner_population_rate_world_map-2

 

A map of the total number of prisoners worldwide suggests deep affinities between two carceral states, according to Fast Company, using statistics:

 

World Imprisoned Population

 

When software engineer Stuart Sandine used data supplied by the International Centre for Prison Studies to map their distribution of percentage of the population imprisoned he created a slightly different map that shows the United States as the state most ready to imprison its own population:

 

Prison Pop Rate

 

But the global geography of imprisonment or disparities of incarceration–or even the quite shocking topography of incarceration in the United States is not the subject of this specific temporary sculpture, so much as the broad possibilities of resistance to imprisonment, much as Ai consciously participated in by his construction of the complex during his own house arrest.  Ai Weiwei is less interested in manipulating the medium of the map per se, as his compatriot Hong Hao, than finding spaciousness in the prison’s very space.

Ai’s @Large project aims to engage with a global geography of imprisonment far more ambitiously than Ai’s previous admittedly expansive works, by exploiting the totemic position of Alcatraz as a historical site of imprisonment and solitary confinement:  if Alcatraz island is the site specific to the work, it addresses a global condition of circular resistance.  Ai, a dedicated decompartmentalizer was invited to Alcatraz Island to create what must have become an expansive work across several former carceral facilities, reworking the specific carceral institution into sites for viewing objects stages, so that the exhibition space becomes an occasion for reflecting on imprisonment through images, music, and voices of the imprisoned.  Many of the works included, which might seem to be poorly or unclearly coordinated across the island and prison complex, were smuggled out of China in ways that exploited that their individual form and shape was not readily recognizable as Ai’s art, and were reassembled as a site-specific work in a site Ai has never visited.  (The kites and pieces of Lego seems to have passed censors who did not recognize their maker or them as art; some were brought in the luggage of its curator, Cheryl Haines.)  A sense of the spaciousness of artistic creation recurs in the prison complex through the placement of birds, dragons, and flying machines.

The invitation to viewers is in a sense to participate in something like an extended reflection on the experience of imprisonment–and Ai, as a former prisoner whose possibilities for travel outside China is confined, includes himself in the imaginary museum of resistance to conditions of carceral confinement though out the complex.  The cultural remove of displacement inherent in a global economy that Ai has long addressed echo his own political engagement at a unique personal position in relation to and engagement with the Chinese government’s authority.  Ai, who first made art in New York City as the son of the exiled poet Ai Qing, began a long campaign as an “oppositionist” artist–his work was increasingly censored in China as he became known as a serial blogger from 2005; his posts commenting on political events were censored, but, since it has been shuttered, Ai maintained an active Twitter account, @aiww, which jumps the firewall Chinese censors created on his blogs and microblogging after interventions on the tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, including publication of the names of the 5,835 students who lost their lives in it–and the closure and destruction of his quite expensive Shanghai studio, demolished without official explanation in 2011.

Ai must have enjoyed seeing the shuttered prison of Alcatraz island as something like an alternate studio, as well as an invitation to explore the reaches of carceral space, and indeed for remapping the reactions to the carceral in an extended series of works, starting from Lego mosaics on one room’s floor in the centerpiece of the complex installation he created for @Large.

 

ai-trace-detail-2-710x355

 

 

ai-trace-detail-1-710x355

 

 

The sculpture suggests something of a map of the experience of imprisonment and an extended reflection on confinement–focussing less on the network or geography of incarceration than the practices of resistance to incarceration, as a floating dragon made out of multiple colored paper kites which courses energetically through the “New Industries Building,” inscribed with words from those imprisoned or exiled from their lands, from Nelson Mandela, pictured on the ground-mosaics on the lower right above, to Edward Snowden, whose words recall resistance to the power of the state, in a room filled with other kites of birds or flowers, recalling the other residents of the island, and suggesting in a space once used for prison labor the cultivation of a craft or practice of resistance perfected within similar spaces of imprisonment themselves.

 

ai-with-wind-1-710x355Jan Stürmen

 

Yet as much as individual artifacts or craft-like constructions, he most eloquent contrast between the painted paper kites and the structures in which they are exhibited suggest the very space in which individual meets the structure of imprisonment, or the archipelago of incarceration, as the space of imprisonment into which the visitor is filled with pieces of craft that recall the open spaces that surround the island:

 

Ai's Birds--jan StillmanJan Stürmann

 

The capricious bird-like kites that are oddly angled in the cinderblock room, and which had arrived in crate containers to disguise their origins or make’s intent, seem oddly liberated in their new space of display, which, even if Ai Weiwei did not fully participate in their hanging and arrangement, take wings in the carceral space from which one exits to watch birds reel outside, seem to gesture to the ability to expand resiliently within the facility of imprisonment itself.

 

Shipping of Bird KiteNina Diesel

 

The broader relation to the world, and global economy, to which Ai’s earlier work had gestured, gains something of a specificity despite the breadth of experiences of incarceration to which he gestures and attempts to redress.

 

ai-weiwei-appealstill from Ai Weiwei’s Appeal ¥15,220,910.50 (Ai Weiwei, China, 2014)

 

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz is on view daily through April 26, 2015, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day

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Filed under @Large, Ai Weiwei, Alcatraz Island, Amnesty International, For-Site, San Francisco Bay