Wednesday, December 11, 2002

State Boundaries

Chris Turner points to an animation showing the boundaries of the U.S. and the individual states changing from colonization to the modern age.

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I teach a history class and my students were wondering about why individual states have the shapes that they have. Is there a good quick reference available?

I came across this animation, and this page also, while looking for information on where the state boundaries are EXACTLY, i.e. lines of longitude/latitude etc. which aren't as obvious a thing to look for on google as you'd think....

But as a historian writing from "the other side of the line", i.e. the 49th Parallel, and with a special interest in the history of the Pacific Northwest and the Oregon Dispute, it's a bit disconcerting to see the 49th Parallel drawn to the Pacific from 1818 onwards, as this most definitely didn't happen until 1846. If anything, the US claim UNTIl that time (and a bit afterward, though not officially) was "54-40" ("or Fight", etc.), but the 1818-46 context of that boundary was SHARED British-American dominion over the Columbia District and New Caledonia (which is what our history calls the so-called Oregon Country). The 49th Parallel had NO role whatsoever west of the Rockies until the very last moments of the quarrel over the region; in fact the British in the region expected the boundary to be the Columbia River, but London didn't know what they were giving away....

Similarly, the northern Louisiana Boundary shouldn't be the 49th Parallel UNTIL 1818, which is when the old wavy line dividing the Missouri-Mississippi and Red-Saskatchewan basins was replaced by the oh-so-modern straight E-W line that's been in place ever since (as with Puget Sound and the Columbia, the British had no idea what they were giving up in the case of the Red River....).

ALSO the Maine Boundary is shown as fixed from the moment it appears in the animation, but it also was under dispute and not settled for a long time (and not without a bit of ssbre-rattling from Congress and the Executive Branch....).

But anyway, other than those purely technical quibbles (we Canadians don't expect you to get your own historical involvement with us straight, anymore than you have your own straight, or us ours for that matter....) I thought the animation was purdy nifty and kinda fun to watch. Scratched my head on the mutations of Oregon (state from 1848, IIRC - or is that '59?) and Washington Territory, though; I thought Oregon's boundaries (as state OR territory) were pretty much fixed by 1853 and never included anything north of the Columbia, although I knew about the eastward extension into what's now southern Idaho. But the map shows from 1846-1853 only one big territory; but I know (or thought) there was a separate boundary for Oregon in 1848.

The mumbledy-peg with the Washington-Idaho-Montana border is interesting to watch, also; I've always been curious about the political machinations that saw Idaho having to give up the Flathead area to Montana. What I do know about both of those mountain states is that they wanted a chunk of access to the new mining districts in Southeastern BC, i.e. because of BC DID wind up getting annexed, they'd have their cards on the table for acquiring more territory northwards. Which is why the Idaho Panhandle is where it is (it's the Idaho boundary I was researching when I found all this, by the way).

And watching the animation a few times over, I noticed that at the start, 1650, the line of the Mississippi is shown as a boundary.......hmmmm. Between France and Spain, maybe? But the border of New France vs the English colonies was the line of the Appalachians, right until 1763; and this isn't reflected in the animation. In fact, I find it kind of odd that the rest of the continent is shown simply as a blank slate, as though the US were creating something out of nothing, instead of taking land from the people who already lived there, or by dint of conquest/extortion from the other imperial powers who'd already taken the land from the people who lived there......this map would be a lot more interesting if it were less US-centric and showed the interplay between England, France, Spain, Russia, and the US (oh, and us too, eventually, and Mexico)....I realize it's just a geometric construct, and that Americans reallly ARE interested mostly (only) in their own history and geography, but the animation just seems a curious illustration of the perception that Americans are only concerned with the American reality, that nothing else existed before, and nothing is real outside the US' own boundaries....

The animation gave me a few ideas, anyway, about how to illustrate the various boundary settlements proposed for the Oregon Country/Columbia District.....

{Note to Paul Erickson: You might want to try and order "A Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest" by Derek Hayes, for your school library maybe, or just for neat maps and interesting coffee-table browsing; covers everything, including Russian and Spanish maps/claims and even some Indian ones....)

Mike C.

That's pretty cool. It took me a minute to realize that it wasn't Flash. I really used to enjoy animated gifs, but after enough banner advertisements, I've began to hate them.

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