Monthly Archives: November 2014

What We Really Want to Eat?

Shortly after New York Times produced an elegant pictorial map of Thanksgiving recipes in each state, to emphasize the varied bounties of our national cuisine, the Upshot opted to rethink how to map the meal.  Rather than concentrating on whetting taste buds, they consulted the new masters of the web to depict the current foodscape–a subject of increasing cartographical scrutiny.  By inviting Google researchers to mine data for a map of most-searched Thanksgiving recipes, to trace local variations in what sorts of foods are on folks’ minds.  As much as being the staples, or the family traditions, these Googled recipes seem the real crowd-pleasers, the seasonal favorites less indulged during the year.  The map tracks the latest permutation of a festival that probably began with native Americans’ collective dances and rituals to secure successful future harvest embraced by puritan pilgrims and later adopted as a national holiday; as much as map making constitutes a nation, world maps of searched recipes meals oddly renders a national holiday of thanks.

The word-search map of “most-looked for and most distinct types” distributes Thanksgiving foods by word searches specific to states.  As much as an actual lay of the land, the word-map provides an inside-out version of the pictorial map of favorite holiday dishes, as Googlers identified the most-searched for recipe by state in what was deemed a “democratic” counterpart of what is currently cooked for Thanksgiving tables across the fifty states and Puerto Rico.  While not constituting much of an an invasion of privacy, the results present a striking picture of the national palate.  It does suggest, in ways unlike the pictorial map of home-made regional recipes, both a tendency to uniformity and a growing distance between farm and table–if not the disappearance of farms–in what was long billed as the harvest holiday.  What, exactly, is being harvested is not that easily able to be described, although it suggests the changes wreaked by supermarket-bought foods–or just supermarket chains–in our nation’s edible geography, if not in our sense of gemütlichkeit.

The nonprofit conservation organization known as the National Wild Turkey Federation has mapped the wide ranges of wild turkeys across the nation, revealing the wide access to turkey across much of the most settled regions of the continent.




When the New York Times mapped the “most searched for, most distinct types” of food across the country in time for Thanksgiving, it did suggest that some of the more esoteric store-bought alternative recipes that might make it to American tables varied widely in the distance of states from an actually turkey market.  The results included many local favorites, but were not that encouraging on the front of healthy winter foods, or able to offer much of a foodscape than a mapping of the foods on folks’ minds, if not those that are made in bulk, and offer a strange harvest of edibles which the families gather round dining tables to eat:

Thanksgiving Menu Map

New York Times


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–if not the limited number of food groups it includes.  Despite the diversity of food-names, several striking bands suggesting continuity of culinary preferences emerge in the map of most-googled items searched with thanksgiving dinners across in the country that suggest a manner of carving up what’s on offer on tables–a run of squash in the northeast; a clustering of cakes in the deep south; wild rice in the northern midwest of Wisconsin and Minnesota; a variety of candy-enhanced fruit salads that seems specific to the Northwest–and in contrast to the more southern taste for sweet baked desert or the Missouri taste for green rice casserole.  Of course, Mirliton Casserole is a nice indulgence of shrimp for the Gulf Coast and Louisiana, albeit at the tail-end of the inland shrimp harvest (although frozen does fine).

We move into shopping for sugary salads for much of the landlocked western and central plains, however:


Cookie SaladNew York Times


It’s not surprising the folks in Montana are thinking about fruit salad, but the broad popularity of “frog eye salad” in neighboring Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming suggests something other than an abundance of amphibians, but a taste for sugary fruits that seems decidedly regional in their appeal–the concoction of pineapple, eggs, coconut and mandarin oranges with marshmallows is akin to the nearby desserts of the midwestern Candyland of Cookie Salad and Snicker Salad, but represents a distinct variation on a theme, reflecting folks loading up on sucrose and glucose for the cold weather of winter.  “Dirt pudding” isn’t only the result of desperation or a shortage of cash in Ohio, but an Oreo cookie and vanilla pudding concoction often decorated with gummy worms, suggesting mental distance from actual farms.  The Northeast fad for Pumpkin Whoopie Pie is a variation on holiday-themed deserts, based on the sort of autumn foods, like persimmon, if a twist from what one might expect to be on the traditional Thanksgiving table.


Cnady Land


There is a striking American obsession with dessert has interesting inflection in its focus on cake throughout 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, even if it’s originally native to the southeastern states–which one might tie to the alarming recent trends the CDC has offered on obesity in the United States, but seems a cheap shot for the holidays.




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 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, they are the outliers.  We might group with them residents of New Mexico looking at leftovers with “turkey enchiladas” or the Virginians who love their collard greens, but these seem last-minute searches not so central to the Thanksgiving menu.

By far the most Americans seem looking to indulge in high levels of corn syrup and calories to live it up with friends, but rather than focussing on obesity trends in America, one might focus on the proximity of the table to farm.  (Pretzel Salad isn’t exactly farm-to-table.)  To be sure, perhaps a Google Search is not much evidence for what’s consumed on the table.  Maybe googled recipes are made by those without their own family cookbooks in the kitchen, or just comparing alternate desserts for the holidays.  Perhaps, indeed, 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, a bit 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, but trust the web for a special branch of last-minute additions to already prepared menus?

The map of Google searches, if not suggesting a reaction to Michael Pollan’s suggestion we eat more greens, may well reflect just how far away we’ve grown from farms and farmed harvests.  That isn’t much new news in itself.  In 2011, the USDA’s agricultural census ( offered a basis for a compelling Esri “story map” or spatial narrative of just how far food travels to tables for most Thanksgiving meals.   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 46 million birds to create the illusion of plenty on dining room tables–to signify 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 below:


Turkeys 2011Smithsonian/ESRI maps


The bulk of the population of turkeys that feed the nation seem in 2011 are agglomerated, by the tens of millions, in farms in North Carolina and Virginia, which, with those in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana and Arkansa, feed the nation.  The predominance of turkeys raised in North Carolina, origin of much turkey served in the south and central states, is striking; maybe Minnesota feeds the midwest.


Midwest and NC TurkeysSmithsonian/ESRI maps


Moving along the sourcing of the Thanksgiving menu, the similar concentration of the solidly southern sweet potato, the vegetable most destined beside the turkey, must be noted, before we move on to the green beans:


Sweet potatoes


(Back in 2009, the newspaper of record used the top search terms in as an index to map what folks across the country cooked by GIS, to arrive at a geographical clustering of sweet potato casserole of unsurprising similarity:  despite the more national purview of pumpkin pie.)

For the record, and to map the full Esri story, or allow that story to speak, green beans were widely cultivated in 2011, providing a taste of the local for the table as well as a visually pleasing dash of light green–save in those places where fruit salads of undefined provenance were particularly popular Google searches:


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 element that complements turkey.  Fresh cranberries seem to signify something like a custodian of local culinary tradition in many of the very same regions where folks searched for the least confected foods:  dependent on environmental particularity, their survival as a crop 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.  Will this change with global warming?




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 specific conditions for the cultivation of crops of cranberry, which demand bogs and abundant wetlands, and a period of winter, leaves it 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, Google searches tend to the far more readily at hand/least processed 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 bird that is bulked up with water, stuffing, and potatoes with a suitably over-the-top dessert.

The maps remove us from a tactile relation to the edible harvest feast we might well pause to mourn.


Salvatore LascariSalvatore Lascari (1884-1967), Thanksgiving, n.d.

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Filed under mapping agribusiness, mapping foods, mapping local foods, mapping meat, mapping thanksgiving, mapping turkey farms, national foodscapes


Last year the Senate failed to pass the bill to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  But the fight was intensely waged before a map, and it seems time to scrutinize what that map charts, and place it beside what sort of future map of an energy landscape we seek to create.  And as debate continues, and we look at maps to understand the potential transformation of the landscape the would result from the pipeline that would carry 800,000 barrels of bitumen a day across the farmlands of the central United States.  Can we map both the benefits that the Keystone XL pipeline could bring against the reality of the risks it would pose?

The debate about the pipeline was first rehearsed before a predominantly Democratic Congress, before 2014 elections led Republicans to promise to place the Keystone at the top of their Congressional agenda–in the attempt to place it on an actual map.  The first effort to pass the bill was championed by a Democratic Senator from Louisiana, who vaunted the benefits it would bring to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, and hoped to convince the C-SPAN public to the nation as a whole.  At a time when the long-time senator felt increasingly politically isolated, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) staged a photo-opportunity standing before a map of the nation:  the map placed the proposed project for laying line across the US among a web of existing national pipelines, as if it would symbolize her own relation to the nation, as well as the place the pipeline within the much-vaunted promise of energy independence.  The deceptiveness of the map by which she sought to symbolize such independence had of course been crafted by pro-corporate supporters of the pipeline, and its deceptiveness–and erasure of costs–needs to be examined, lest it be lodged in one’s mind.

For longtime Sen. Ladrieu, the map displayed the Keystone pipeline as a key to restore or burnish the image of America as an energy superpower.  Yet it disguised the devastation of the extraction of oil or the fact that little of the oil transported was destined for or needed in an American market.  At the same time as oil consumption is declining nationwide and prices are rapidly declining worldwide, Landrieu used the map as something of a backdrop to sell the pipeline by placing it at the centerpiece of a compelling, if largely illusory, vision of energy independence.  But the declining significance of oil to US energy problems (or energy policy) was obscured by Landrieu’s appeal, as it will be, in the Republican priorities for the new Congress, as they make it a top energy priority and link it to the hope of “energy independence” again.  Although such approval would have little effect on changing gasoline prices, and obscure that we face an oil glut, there is almost a fetishization of the pipeline as opening hope for an expansion both of offshore drilling for gas on public lands, and an acceleration of the permitting process for exploring for natural gas that have already been granted.  Hortatory banner ads trumpet with urgency the enticing promise of “Leading America to Energy Independence”–and claim that that will all be done safely, with our best interests in mind.


energy indepndence?

Pipelines Work!


Yet although the Keystone pipeline has become something of an entrée to the expansion of a new US gas and oil boom, and is billed by TransCanada as the “safest and most advanced” pipeline in the continent, which would offer a new “essential infrastructure” to American oil producers, despite a glut of cheap oil, by presenting the $8 billion project in a rhetoric of progress in energy policy–even though the 800,000 barrels of bitumen (or diluted bitumen) that it would promises to transport each day all the way from the Alberta tar pits to the Gulf Coast refineries would be destined for export, and would mean only 35 permanent jobs.

With no clear benefit to American consumers made clear, however, the “progress” of the bill is being pinned to the notion of creating an expanded and renovated energy infrastructure, even at the cost of expanding other serious infrastructural problems in the country.  By integrating the network of existing gas and oil pipelines as a single network, the map used situated the delayed Keystone project as part of a national network of pipelines, suggesting that it would take its place within a coherent national energy policy.


11.19-kxl_standard_540x360Joshua Roberts/Reuters


Yet whether such an energy policy exists remains open to debate.

While the map provides a photo opportunity for describing a network that will return America to energy self-sufficiency–the national map becomes the framework to illustrate the collective pipelines that transport both gas and oil across the nation and from offshore wells, as if these manmade pipelines served as the arterial system that illustrated the nation’s vitality–the illusion of energy self-sufficiency masks the fact that, as the boom in Shale gas is poised to restore the nation’s status as  a major energy producer for overseas markets, industry needs to augment or retrofit the existing infrastructure and terminals to be able to export oil and gas efficiently, of which the Keystone pipeline would be the test case.  Indeed, as an infrastructure for exportation becomes an increasingly important part of the future plans of the energy industry, the map of pipelines may have become removed from the national energy market–even though TransCanada is building a separate 2,858-mile pipeline from Alberta to refineries in eastern Canada.  But the danger of a possible leak or bursting of the pipes–even if they are vaunted to be the strongest yet–could create a spill of national devastation far greater than the recent oil spill in Montana, where the bursting of a twelve-inch steel pipeline (albeit a third of the thirty-six inch pipeline used in the 875 miles to be built in ten sections on a 110-foot-wide swath of land), has recently sent oil not only into local drinking water but dispersed contaminants that flowed downstream to a confluence with the Missouri River over sixty miles away in North Dakota–creating a state of emergency declared across several counties after residents found the drinking water to smell like diesel and be oily.

The actual relation of the pipeline to national energy markets would effectively be minimal.  Even though the map foregrounded the impact of the Keystone pipeline on a national energy system, the plea for “independence” voiced by Mary Landrieu, but honed by operatives in the Republican party, would be to circumvent the current and longstanding ban on the crude oil exports from the United States,  and effectively re-write energy policy by allowing the Keystone pipeline, despite its significant costs and potential risks, to provide precedent to change that ban.  In addition, the Keystone pipeline would set precedent for effectively demoting the status of environmental concerns–and demoting the very fears of potentially  dramatically raising carbon emissions in ways that that have been the basis for EPA actions aimed at cutting carbon emissions that have been enacted by President Obama in ways that have hamstrung the same energy industries from expanding coal production in the southern states.

Yet the adverse environmental impact of extracting bitumen from the Tar Sands has already begun in ways that are also erased by the abstraction of the pipeline map that has been widely displayed as an image of Senator Landrieu instead hoped 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, however, which would be the benefactor of pumping oily bitumen across the nation to be refined on the Gulf Coast, together with Canadian oil companies.  (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


The map before which she stood appears based on maps that track the oil and gas pipelines that already carry gas and hazardous liquids through the country–a pipeline map–that tracks the range of lines across the country that currently exist, as if they were safe, although their own safety has yet to be ascertained.  The complex of some 2.5 million miles of pipelines that stretch across the country is rarely, in itself, in public view, and has been plagued by actually serious incidents from 1986 that can be tracked on the following interactive map, assembled by ProPublica, based on regulators filed reports.




While the matrix of pipelines seems to suggest a healthy, functioning system that has posed little danger to Americans, one could argue that the reverse is in fact the case: the static version of this interactive map shows the wide range of accidents from ruptures to spills that have occurred over the past twenty years, plotting “accidents” that have occurred from 1986 to the present, or been labeled “significant” by regulators:


Accidents Near YOu


The spills have been blamed on corrosion of old pipe, for the most part, and distanced from the new pipelines that would comprise the Keystone XL.  But as increasing quantities of oil are transported by train, as well as pipe it is important to consider that oil train spills have hit a record in 2014–more than any year since the federal government began recording data on spillages in 1975, loosing some 57,000 gallons of crude in some 141 “unintentional releases,” compared to just twenty-five a year on average between 1975 and 2012.  This reflects that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration acknowledges, that “More crude is being transported across the country than in any time in our history, and we are aggressively developing new safety standards to keep communities safe.”  The picture, in short, seems that we have become committed to shipping more oil by train or pipeline–and if pipeline is not yet set, by train–and face increasing risks of oil spills in the future as a result.  (It might make sense investing some of the $8 billion designated for the Keystone XL project on increasing the safety of such transport of crude oil across the country; while the prospect of 800,000 barrels a day that would arrive from the Tar Sands would not be compensated by the loss of a mere 60,000 gallons, the danger of the release of pollutants is steep; cleanups of ruptured pipelines such as the 2010 spillage into the Kalamazoo River approach $800 million.)

Moreover, the effects of “dilbit” that would be transported from the Tar Sands on pipelines that are planned to be laid from Alberta to the Texas Gulf has only been recently studied.  Rather than weigh such issues and dangers, both Senator Landrieu and the pipeline’s supporters construct the debate about “independence”–a keyword that has been cunningly re-appropriated, and was being given new significance at this instance to inflect national debate.  In ways that have intertwined the supporters of the construction of the Pipeline’s extension into the United States with American history and national character, the use of “independence” to discuss this international project is of course almost ironic:  in the context of the multinational project, “independence” would be embedded in meeting the needs of 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 without any relation to the amounts of oil available to the national market–or the potential dangers of transporting energy across such a long stretch of underground aquifers and agricultural land.

“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.

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.  But the diluted bitumen–“dilbit“–would not be destined for national consumption in the form of gasoline.  It would rather 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 grievous 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.




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–by carrying it from Alberta CA across the country.




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 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.)  Indeed, she erased the possible risks of the transport of such dilbit, despite the existence of a range of oil spills across one of the states that the planned pipeline would be designed to cross–North Dakota–where reported environmental incidents from existing oil wells from Jan 1, 2006 to October 13, 2014 were dangerously clustered around water sources–


Oil spills, contained and not,in ND

of which those from oil pipelines were admittedly fewer, but by no means few:

oil pipeline spills


Instead of portraying potential pipeline risks, the continuous terrestrial 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.




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.

By superimposing the Keystone pipeline atop a similar map of both offshore and on-land pipelines, the map normalizes the laying of pipeline by placing it within the web of existing coverage, in order to encourage its acceptance.  The map’s focus removes it from unique and specific 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 of very 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.




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 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 Canadian aerial photographer 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 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.




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 Senator 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.




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 down-payment, 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.)


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Filed under environmental risk, gas and oil pipelines, Keystone Pipeline, Keystone XL, mapping a national energy policy, oil pipelines, oil spills, 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.




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.


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, Massimo Vignelli, New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, transit maps

Mapping the Current State of Surveillance

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.  Much as Senator Jon Tester not that belatedly strove to balance his desire for “law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders” with the appearance that such technologies “potentially violate the Fourth Amendment and represent a significant intrusion into the lives of thousands of Americans,” the ACLU has recently mapped a growing geography of surveilling that the FBI has created in recent years that include the very surveillance devices of dirtboxes which Senator Tester, who has quite staunchly supported citizens’ civil liberties, invited Jeh Jenson of the Homeland Security office and the Attorney General to take time to explain to the country.

Senator Tester’s belief that stricter oversight is needed stems from the “extreme lengths” to which federal agencies have so assiduously cloaked such programs in secrecy, his letter of request about the widespread use of dirtboxes that act as cellphone towers to intercept phone communications by both US Marshals and the US Drug Enforcement Agency may well have stemmed in part from the geography of a widespread surveillance program that the ACLU has started to map in the state of California, but which might reveal both the dissemination of military technologies of surveilling across the nation, and the local expansion of the new level of worldwide surveilling recently focussed on and directed mostly toward areas outside the territorial boundaries of the United States.  While we are waiting for Mssrs. Jeh and Holder to respond, the arrival of the scope of the mapping of residents of California–or even those traveling in the state–might well give pause if not raise expectations for the scope of what levels of individual surveilling will be revealed.  For the map of degrees of surveillance shows something of a microcosm of the extent of the expansion of surveilling ourselves of the very sort that Senator Tester was so rightly wary that he has promised to his best to publicize should it pose so clear a violation of the US Constitution as seems the case, in an attempt to place them under the oversight of both courts and the US Congress in order to restrict their use.

The maps of surveillance that the ACLU has taken upon themselves to provide is not only “cutting-edge” in its use of tools of surveillance but suggest the degree to which law enforcement agencies actively aspire to something along the lines of precognition of which groups might be likely to commit crimes in recent years–as if in a gambit for the foreknowledge Philip K. Dick imagined pre-cogs helping police apprehend criminals before they commit crimes in Minority Report,  but based not on the psychical foresight of “pre-cogs” so much as the statistical prediction of categories of probably cause of criminality or value of surveillance that runs against many of our legal traditions.  Such snooping for intelligence gathering recalls the sort of racial profiling former which Attorney General Eric Holder (quite rightly) once lent his voice to strongly oppose, following the 2003 DoJ “Guidance on Race”–yet which he incrementally allowed from 2008 for both national security and law enforcement alike.  Holder has hesitated to restrict or unmask such activities as an abusive expansion of surveillance over Americans.  And he has allowed investigation and surveillance of “behaviors” and “lifestyle characteristics” to be directed at American Muslim communities from New England to Northern California.

These activities have actually continued to expand dramatically over the past decade–including instances of the outright abuse of community outreach programs first initiated to build trust.  In a bizarre absorption of such outreach into the apparatus of a tentacular system of state surveillance, the monster seems to have been fed by the deep fears of the insufficiency of procuring further information,  and the need to gather it at all costs.  In ways that recall the suspension of individual human rights in the use of torture to obtain state secrets–but is directed to monitoring its populations, much as the extraction and mapping of such racial and ethnic data by the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG).

Such crude tools of mapping function by a pervasive sense and logic of invasiveness.  We are mapped in ways that lack even the logic or ethics one expects from a government service, it appears, as government services aim to create a sort of all-seeing eye for mapping populations, vacuuming up information in an almost paranoid manner.  ACLU’s Chris Soghoian has recently disclosed the existence of widespread surveillance program among US Marshalls across the state of California, including a fleet of airplanes flying from five metropolitan airports dedicated to collecting cell phone data and equipped with dirtboxes to do so–since 2007,  that parallel the NSA’s programs of surveillance, now known to be concentrated on the Southwestern border of the US by the DEAImmigration and Customs Agency, Homeland Security Agency, and FBI.

The degree of widespread and almost routine adoption of public surveillance systems by the government across the United States might be best understood as a sort of surveillance of the everyday, ranging from video surveillance, false cell phone towers, or facial recognition software that offer a range of tools to map populations to a degree never known.  The new nature of law enforcement mapping may suggest something like a desperation to agglomerate information, and a deep difficulty to hold back on abilities and technologies to extract information on individual whereabouts, and indeed to track persons where they could not be often seen.  The ability to map the invisible, and to try to intercept signals that move through the air, transcends whatever notions of mapping to which we might be habituated, cultivating new abilities of collating information that seem deeply intrusive.




Techniques of mapping populations have grown in their intrusiveness far beyond the mapping of ethnicities, initially pioneered by men like Francis Amasa Walker, that offered a statistical visualization of the demand for more information than most maps can provide.  When Walker mapped the nation’s populations from 1873, as Secretary of the Census, he offered a way of reading national space in new ways for public ends as well, potentially, for the needs of the government.  The recent mapping 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 studied 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 government money that is directed to maintaining an intensive level of intrusive surveillance of the everyday across the state of California alone has been mapped by the ACLU in interactive form to allow comparisons between levels of surveillance that exist in California’s communities and fifty-eight counties.  The map was appositely issued 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:





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 created 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 alike to send email letters, with the subject line “Don’t Map Me or My Community,” to express their desire to help restrict such intelligence-gathering and mapping tools that are regularly based on practices of ethnic or racial profiling, and set new standards for invasiveness.  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 is a backformation dating from the 1960’s from “surveillance.”  Its use has, however, unsurprisingly really taken off recently , even if it has crested from about 2000, the omniscient folks at Google let us know . . . and the question that this post might pose is how much it is destined to further grow in common usage.



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Filed under ACLU, Homeland Security, mapping surveillance, Tools of Surveillance

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Tracking the After-Images 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’ innovative 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, and provide far more subtle texts–and statistical knives–than the pared-down infographics that appear so often on our handhelds and screens today.  In ways that suggest a new standard for the historical depth of the infographic, the map used statistical “facts” to embody the nation so that one can almost zoom in on its specific regions, in a manner that prefigure the apparently modern versatility the medium Google Maps, but that do so by exploiting its folio-sized dimensions as a canvas to read the nation’s populations.

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, gained pressing value after the Hayes-Tilden contest–as it would after the recent defining Presidential contest between Bush and Gore, or for the race between Obama and Romney–for their critical explanatory role to resolve the nation’s symbolic coherence.

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.  The 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”to permit slave-holding in the south and prevent its expansion to the north at the same time the country expanded–



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:




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, in ways that have encouraged the increased role of the info graphic as a speech act.  The increased authority of picturing the nation in electoral maps have spun out from the night-time coverage of elections to remain burned in many of our cortices as evidence of a divided nation. As much as these colors have come to accentuate national divides, they create a differentiated landscape that the format of mapping seems to naturalize, and become a site that occasioned repeated glossing and interpretation for the evidence of national divisions that they appear to encode.  (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.






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:




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:



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.





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.




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.




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.



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.




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.




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:




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, 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.)




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, Gore v. Bush, infographics, Obama v. Romney

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

The fetishization of infographics in television news has spread not only to print, but to our ability to map collectives and process data across media.  The fetishization reflects the readiness to imbue infographics authority as a communicative form, perhaps depending as much on the reduction of news teams and shift to computer-assisted reporting as it does to the greater certainty of GIS.  The readiness to sell information and the premium on winning audiences–or offering viewers splendid click-bait–has led publications to cultivate the infographic in ways that reflect how data visualizations indeed seem to be supplanting the authority of maps.

The infographic and mapping of political preference and opinion has gained the status of a speech act of particular synthetic power that has paralleled the growth of political analysis, although that analysis has often assumed the level of glossing the distribution of opinions, preferences, and employment on a map–as if in a perpetual search to find some coherence, or indeed to search for the possiblity of consensus in them.  The  hegemony with which computer-assisted reporting and news graphics that sectorize space with color-coded abandon may be deeply embedded in how the medium is the message, however, as much as being a by-product of Geographic Information Systems or computer-based analysis.  For the images are, to put it simply, user-friendly, and designed for surface reading–as if they processed a complex political process through snapshots or thin condensations of the status quo.

Given the growing symbolic authority of infographics, for reasons ranging from the downsizing of newsrooms to the contraction of attention of the consumers of news to the reduction of politics to an oppositional contest, the historian Susan Schulten is right to call attention to how Henry Gannett compellingly synthesized the divided vote of the 1880 presidential election, and the clarity that his  county-by-county coloration of the United States measured the division of the country after two polarizing Presidential elections.  After the confusion of the results of the division of national consensus in 1876, when Samuel Tilden’s victory of the popular vote was overturned in Congress by a Historical Compromise, the need to resolve the distribution of votes in 1880 emphasized the legibility of how voting translated into the electoral college.  It also mapped the survival of anti-abolitionist sentiment across the Southern states, and the difficulty of ever enacting the policies that would enfranchise African-American voters in those seats or strongholds of the anti-Reconstruction Democratic party in the South.  The Garfield presidency was not able to implement the promise of Reconstruction, to be sure, but along the coasts and midwest, particularly in the north, assembled an irrefutable consensus that Henry Gannett took great pains to embody in this 1883 map, in ways that recall his tenure as Supervisor of the U.S. Census.

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

The embodiment of the United States that Gannett provided has long been with us, and has oddly continued to persist in some form–if with perhaps less clearly drawn and delimited lines, to be sure–to the continued image of a dichotomous divide within the Gas Tax Latitudinal Divide that has recently returned, ostensibly to trace the inequities of taxes that residents of different states are asked to bear–California first and foremost, but closely followed by New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii.


API-US-MapExxon Mobil Perspectives


What sort of embodiment of the nation does this map offer, if not one that is destined to evoke the unduly regressive interference of states outside of the Deep South?

In ways that measure the collective memories of secessionist sentiments, the map seems an after-image of the survival of anti-Union sentiment, or at least rejection of the program of Reconstruction that Republicans supported, and saw as the logical outcome of the Civil War.  But while quelling the actuality of Southern Secession, The dichotomous distribution of contrasting shades coloring the continent in counties shaded by two alternate primary colors both recorded the transition to a shifting society after emancipation–when privilege remained restricted to whites, effectively, and the deep difficulties overcoming of division between north and south.

Rather than show the nation divided, his map of the country celebrated the new basis of political union, even if its striking distribution of the popular vote provided an early data map of a politics of polarized public opinion eerily familiar to the  divisive politics dividing the country–echoing a map by which cotton was grown across Southern States, which undergird deeply felt economic divisions.  But the map of the country that takes its spin and meaning from the historical moment of the memory of southern secession is quite distinct from the political snapshots of the present-day, and their emphasis of the shifting physiognomy of the nation’s mosaic of political opinion.


Cotton bales and population increase

Gannett’s use of the format of mapping as a means to display his data attests to the level of trust accorded to the statistical map as offering a legible image of that provides something of model for our own info graphics, but also the historical importance of a time when national fracturing loomed larger in public consciousness than it ever had. Although it is less interested in the divides that separated the nation than the ability for their reconciliation by an electoral system, and less dedicated to depicting a national fracturing than a crafting of consensus, and evoking the diminished resistance to eliminating race-based distinctions, it also provides a striking map of their survival.  For in providing a statistical record of the vote, Gannett and Lewes divided the country in ways that were distinct from the recent national maps arranging of ethnic populations, slave populations, African-American presence, geological surveys, income distributions or population density, but presented a pressing portrait of the nation.  Yet rather than offer a single declaration of the current division of the country, the map seeks to sketch a changing national canvas in relation to the deepest debates which divided the nation, and to chart the emergence of a status quo in detailed fashion.

Rather than echo the sorts of political divides familiar from political infographics today, Gannett’s map inescapably referred to the specific temporality of the moment of secession and its overcoming–and the scars that the traumatic historical experience of Secession and Civil War on the nation, at the same time as their supersession.  But the complexion that the statistical map embodied bore not only traces of those scars, but of its quite recent supercession.  The statistical “facts” on which these maps were based chart an after-image of an acceptance of the place of Reconstruction in the nation’s political life, rather than seeking to naturalize the divide for readers, and it gained meaning for viewers in relation to the divide of the Civil War.  The lithograph that he prepared for the 1883 Scribners Historical Atlas returned to the recent division of the nation among a range of mapping activities that sought to embody the nation’s coherence in new ways, and takes its meaning in no small part in relation to the performance of national identity.  Readers of Gannett’s map could not avoid reading the distribution in relation to the historical event of secession and its aftermath, and the current campaign for Reconstruction across the southern states that the Republican party advocated.  The map encoded a deep dissonance between visions of the country.



1.  Printed maps constituted the nation in powerful new ways by 1860, casting it with new power in terms that stretched from coast to coast–and which they allowed to be read, by 1895 in a beauteous landscape that stretched “from sea to shining sea.”  The map individuated the somewhat troubled nature of the new nation.

Gannett’s map indicated an unmediated representation of the country’s political complexion, whose authority lay in both the image it offered of the nation and the diminution of the after-image it presented of the secession of southern states.  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 “afterimage” 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 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 Western territories, and at the distribution of the electoral vote map, inset, which neatly suggests the current containment of southern separatism.

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–despite the persistence of a deep divide evident in the southern states.

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 cartographical 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.

2.  The considerably impressive local detail of Gannett’s 1883 infographic–its local sensitivity–contrasts with the finality of the on-demand infographics that news outlets readily present of a divided nation.  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 after-image 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”)–representationally concretized 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 defined a data-map colored to indicate 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 after-image of the survival of the Confederate States of America.


Minolta DSC


3.  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 clearly 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 relative “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 data flows 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 degree of accuracy that might best confirm 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 collating 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 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 an after-image 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 after-images of the divides that were, in the past, so deeply felt.


4.  The level of accuracy with which county-by-county data allowed 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 after-image 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 infographics, 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 after-image 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 experience of the secession of Southern states from the union, providing a counterpoint to secession, whose many after-images also understandably haunts how the electorate divides today in ways difficult to fully process.

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, sadly, persist today and pose steep national challenges.



Gannett would surely have been quite surprised to know how the after-image 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 has 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:



This 2000-2004 map dates but from a decade ago, but itself preserves another eery after-image 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



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, or a divide in the open expression of race-based anger–




–but clearly 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.



5.  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.


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.



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 illustrate the dramatically increase in literacy in maps as accurately mediating the national vote.  While Gannett’s map 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.




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 the policies of Reconstruction and the , 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.


6.  Gannett’s mapping of the reluctance to adopt the Republican platform of Reconstruction is sharply unlike the divide between gasoline taxation across of the country that was popularized on the blog disseminated by the folks at Exxon-Mobil to suggest reasons for gas’s uneven price, but that image–for all its dependence on fact–clearly depends on a familiarity with map readership of the separate polity of the south, and the unconscious image of a divided nation that defined southern secession.  For all its insistence on an uneven distribution of taxes, the uneven distribution it reveals has gained traction as an icon of tax disparity on account of these associations, no doubt, even if rather than being rooted in relation to an actual historical divide, the graphic suggests only the independence of select states–New Hampshire, Missouri, and an expanded version of the Old South–that compel us to wonder about the apparent latitudinal divide on the imposition of gas taxes as if it were something of a new Mason-Dixon line along the 37th parallel.

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.


7.  The “informational graphic” seems to recycle the conceit of dividing “red” states from “blue” states both in recent parsing of senatorial races and in the tabulation of Presidential races–in ways that crystallized 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 chorographical 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–with which Gannett, as Supervisor of the U.S. Census, was no doubt particularly sensitive.


8.  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 after-images offers points of comparison and departure to read their spatial distributions–and offer indispensable points of reference and comparison to read meaning into later maps, as well as a basis for interpreting their terrain.  The non-physical topographical markers and divides in current maps such as that of gas tax levels in the United States demand a degree of historical depth to remove them from the admittedly polemical roles that groups as the American Petroleum Institute 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 eerily mirror our attraction to mapping red and blue states that dramatize the divide in far more muted hues.  Its 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.  It 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.  It seems to recapitualite a contested narrative it seeks to resolve as well as inventively retell.  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.

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:



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


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.


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.


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.


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 infographic parsed county-by-county voting tallies of the election, years later, to clarify the impact of Hayes’ victory; 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 in the republic at that time, 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



The infographic effectively summarized the historical and sociological 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.

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.


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, Persistent Income Inequalities, Red States vs. Blue States, Susan Schulten

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Tracking the After-Images of Southern Secession across the United States (Part I)

No region is an island, but divides are defined in ways that create a transmitted insularity along what might be called the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide that cuts across the United States, bisecting much of the nation along what almost appears a meridian.  Even before the efflorescence of confederate resentment in southern states clear in the 2016 Presidential election, but not at all clearly perceived in recent years, but evident the apparent toleration of the claims of white supremacy and the far right.

Indeed, the depth of memories seem to have been provoked by the stripping of symbols of localism and place like the Confederate flag–the emblem of the separateness of the southern identity–exacerbated by a resurgence of regional solidarity reflecting a perceived loss of regional identity and a intrusive federal objections to a symbolism of nobility.




The resistance of localism–and the national drama, indeed, of the attempt to strip the region of its symbol of autonomy–has perhaps not only had a greater impact in how early twenty-first century politics have played out in America, but of the deep presence of the divide of the seceded states across generations.  Can the survival of this divide be mapped?


1. All maps encode narratives, and we turn to maps to spin narratives about the nation every election cycle.   But the rebirth of federalism from 2015 changed the division between red and blue states on the map, and created a deep resentment toward Washington, D.C.  The birth of a division between “red” and “blue” states which emerged in the late 1980s has been revised as several states have started to melt purple, and others shift their demography.  But that creates its own narrative of nationhood:  increasingly, from 2000, “red” states came to describe the national political geography, far more than, say, regions of the “South” or “Northeast” could hope to do, or that the “West” once did.

To be sure, recent threats–or concerns–that supporters of Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election would not support the decision of the nation might serve to remind us of just how important the unity and bridging of regional divides is after a presidential election–if only to repair the rifts that might have been particularly pronounced in our current political campaigns, no doubt as the campaigns have become more extended and increasingly conducted in rallies and over televised conventions, and voters more ready to demonize their candidates’ opponents on social media.  Trump’s request to monitor election booths to prevent voting fraud may have  encouraged fear of fraud in the nation unlike the recent past, but revealed a deep disturbance as to the trust in common institutions, no doubt reflecting the lack of a common news source.  The increased skepticism as to the authority of the results of the election may seem a bizarrely clever ploy–given the guarantee it created of silence as to the apparent results of the election that Trump later won–but the seeds of doubt the charges seemed to create were most able to find an audience in southern states, in part as such deep doubts existed about the proprietary nature of a white, male identity.

The unpacking of the regional identity of the Gas Tax Latitudinal Divide provides an interesting instance of the transmission of identity across time–even despite the clear lack of qualitative local detail that the map of regional anti-federalism provides.  The access that maps offer to narratives widely vary from the itinerary to the abundance of topographic maps.  But data visualizations as that of gasoline taxation provide a problematically pronounced thin description of expanse, the relative opacity of whose surface is difficult to enter, and whose past is more difficult to excavate.  Such visualizations focus so closely on mediating the immediate short-term, stripped of narrative context, and removed from history, one can ignore the divide they reinstate over memories of earlier divides.  But when one examines the continued adoption of voting rights restrictions in the United States, the echo of political legacies in the land as to the role of government–and its openness to the participation of all citizens–is especially evident in the stipulation in the Voting Rights Act that certain states cannot change election policies without oversight from the Attorney General, and that longstanding legacies of voter exclusion warrants continued federal oversight of voting laws.

As it stands, the vacation of the fifth section of the VRA has led to a new fault-line in the country about where restrictions on voting have been introduced in the 2016 election, with dangerous consequences in our notion of what sorts of exclusion from the voting booth are enshrined in local laws.  But the divide was very present to the segregation laws on the books in the United States as late as 1949, when an early attempt to take stock of the continued segregation of the Southern states was mapped for the benefit of readers in Edwin S. Newman’s  Law of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: A Handbook of Your Basic Rights.


civilrightsmap-jpg-crop-original-originalfrom The Law of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: A Handbook of Your Basic Rights


The preponderance of separate voting and indeed of institutionalized segregation south of the parallel 36°30’N that divided once seceded states suggested a coherent code of conduct, not completely separate from the diffusion of policies of segregation in the rest of the union but concentrated  in the southern states as enshrined in the law–as it had remained in Arizona and much of New Mexico close to the southern border.


southern-segregationfrom  The Law of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: A Handbook of Your Basic Rights


It is perhaps no surprise that many of the states that have recently introduced such new restrictions can be mapped onto those states where voting registration was not only less uniform, but lay below 50% in 1964–states including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as parts of Arizona and North Carolina.  The introduction of new restrictions in the area that lies south of what might be call the divide of the United Sates along the lines of political secession when the nation split along the parallel 36°30’N.  For among the multiple divides that maps of the United States so often mask, the continuing salience of the divide of slave-owning states, a divide that long animated national electoral maps, the parallel is made particularly evident in the history of national data visualizations.




To be sure, the data visualization of disparaties in local taxes of gasoline provides the clearest way to place in evidence the increased economic and political polarization that has emerged over the past three decades.  But doesn’t the growing reliance on infographics and choropleths–those convenient snapshots of the political and socioeconomic status quo–also manipulate the viewer to focus on an explicitly short-term image of the country’s divisions, tailor made, as it were, to suit the very rhetoric of polarization that our political parties have openly curried and engaged?  Indeed, the location of six states whose voters face new voting restrictions in the current election–the .  The limited notion of government that such restrictions presuppose is in a sense an ugly scar, not often visible in the symbolic unity of the national map.  Of the eleven states with highest African American turnout in 2008–when Barack Obama was elected President–six have adopted restrictions on voting rights since 2010, including Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia, and South Carolina, in an apparent systematic if not reflexive effort to retract access to the ballot box and restrict participation in public elections of national import.



The enactment of strict voter ID laws in much of the nation, expected to curtail or repress turnout of in blacks, asian Americans, and latino communities, in what seem attempts to repress voting rights and take advantage of the disadvantaged by excluding the votes of many.  The clustering of new voting restrictions in the southern United States–broadly construed as Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, and West Virginia–suggests that the very discriminatory practices that southern states adopted which led to the Voting Rights Act to prevent states from changing voter laws in ways that excluded minorities from the vote–most often by adopting Voter ID, cutting back on voter registration, prevent on-site registration, and pre-registration–threateining to disenfranchise a half a million minority voters.

We were struck by seeing this divide resurrected in a “gasoline tax map” by ExxonMobil blogger Ken Cohen, or in the rather stark divide among states where children are more likely to be raised in a two-parent family–a divide that also runs across our divide into “blue” and “red” states, but contains a striking latitudinal divide according to Census data–a divide that is particularly cautionary, given the benefits children gain from being raised in a household of two parents–and the steeper economic inequalities fostered by the predominance of single-parent households.

two-parent households

New York Times

It is striking that such inequalities are present in an area of such historically steep social inequalities.

To be sure, the country is as politically divided as it has been since the Civil War in recent decades, due both to rising income inequality and to the overlay between money and politics across the country–and the increasing drift to the right of the states-rights no-tax pro-industry Republicans.  Data visualizations that materialize this division, such as the recently-mapped Gas Tax Latitudinal divide, an almost oppositional division of the country by local levels of gasoline taxation, exemplifies how a vision of the present seems to blind us to the past–and to the divide of the country during the Civil War that it seems intentionally to evoke, even as it does so while erasing the historical memory of the division of the country during the Civil War, and the question of states’ rights that the Civil War was fought to resolve.  The current currency of a map that rematerializes such divides, however, and the very picture of an oppositionally divided nation that it insidiously naturalizes and perpetuates.  For the data visualization functions by naturalizing divisions on any issue as if they were inscribed upon the land, and gives an irrefutable evidentiary value to the very claims whose existence they chart.

Is the evocation of a degree of opposition that previously surfaced in the Civil War reveal an after-echo of earlier social and political divides, or does it reflect the distinct political priorities that shape the political topography of the South?  For the division of much of the nation along a deeply etched parallel 36°30’N has been forgotten by the condescension of posterity, as we forget the salience of its transmission in regional memory.

1.  The stark divergence that the data visualization records seems to show how local interests trump the collective.  Its oddly straight divide obscures disturbing inequalities that cut across America, however, and distract viewers from the actual inequalities which have been with us for some time.  And it makes us wonder what other lines cut, similarly, across the country, even as it seems to suggest the arbitrariness of an imposition of taxes at the pump above its seemingly randomly chosen boundary.  The rhetoric of the visualization of the almost latitudinal divide in a “gasoline tax map” by ExxonMobil blogger Ken Cohen shows taxes descending below 40 cents/gallon below the thirty-seventh parallel as if to naturalize a division that might as probably reflect a line of Vitamin D insufficiency that seems specific to the states that lie below the same meridian, whose apparently arbitrary definition conceals the deep significance with which the line was invested in the formation of the United States.   For the Gas-Tax divide raises almost unconscious visions and memories of how different levels of the collective that is our country can coexist on each of its sides–and raise a question of what sort of clear division exists along that line that makes a tax of 40 cents per gallon such a significant division of the nation that it might be poised to replace that between “red” and “blue” states. The visualization below, as mapped by a blogger for Exxon Mobil, compels us to examine the depth that this apparently purely conventional divide has long held in American history, and indeed to try to unpack the persistence of the division along the deeply etched parallel 36°30’N as a divide of national significance, not forgetting the extent of its significance, in a manner often masked by the symbolical and formal coherence of a national map.

Less than 40 CentsAmerican Petroleum Institute

latitudinal divideWikipedia

Is it possible that we are increasingly becoming a nation of readers that has come to accept the relative inequities that data visualizations inscribe, and in need of bringing a deeper skepticism to interpret the stark geographical divisions that they inscribe?   For the authority of the organization of the lower forty eight states in the union that the Gas Tax map seems to perpetuate take the variable of attitudes to a Gas-Tax as evidence of the inequity of an imposition of a specific tax to make a polemic point, but erase the deep divisions it defines in a landscape that the map invites viewers to see as otherwise undifferentiated, but suggests something like a crease in the map of the United States whose memory stubbornly persists among its residents.

The continuity of a bounded region is the implicit subject, to be sure, of any map, and any disruption or divide calls attention to itself as disturbing the otherwise harmonious surface that a map offers to the world.  But the manner that data visualizations invite us to make pronouncements based on a division of hues or an oppositional palette invite its viewers to leap to pronouncements about the variable mapped, even as it seems to empty that division of historical meaning.  All too often, the data visualization works by removing individuals from the history of the habitation of the country, or of the inhabitants of the land, by not inviting us to tell their story, but to present itself as a sufficient statistical record of how the land is inhabited.  As one form of condescension of posterity, much lamented by E. P. Thompson, the data visualization seems to remove the land from the lens of the past.

The difficulty of the autonomy of the visualization as a register erases its status as an argument, investing itself with the objectivity of a map, and removes it from the redolent memories that its flat colors seem to mask.

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns, Map (1961)

2.  Only by reading beneath its surface, and uncovering the transmission of those divides, can they be both excavated and unpacked.  By providing an intensive reading of a map that begs for a surface reading–and that presents itself as a transparent sign of divides within the country that seem disenfranchising, to say the least, or unjust, this post seeks to take the “divide” of tax levels as something of a commentary on the deep divides that have haunted the nation, and that continue to preoccupy those who, like the Supervisor of the US Census Henry Gannett, who famously mapped the divisions of the electorate in the post-Civil War election of 1876, when Southerners joined in a Democratic block, search for a convincing embodiment of national unity.  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.

Latitude in Gannet's MapLibrary of Congress

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.

One might do well to read the gas-tax division less as a self-contained statement, than yet another layer of lamination that is placed above the deep discrepancies in economic mobility that are evident across the country, in a recent 2010 census, and then go deeper to excavate the historical significance of that divide, in another deep divide striking as a stark reminder of the coexistence of multiple national economies.


New York Times

While the demographic category has ben not mentioned so far, a prominent element to this picture of national division is race, and the undeniable echo–far more difficult to trace or visualize–of what race continues to signify in different populations that inhabit areas of the land:

Black non-Hispanic 2010 census

3.  The convenient conceit of the national map is to mask faults in the coherence of a sovereign territory.  But the ethics of infographics that are designed to expose fault-lines have not been conceived, and nor have what these infographics encourage us to notice and to ignore.  The spread of our current electoral maps, or their GIS variant geographic distribution of voting habits, reveal surprisingly stark divides that undermine or challenge the nation’s unity and how the technology of mapping suggest a different manner for imagining national unity and noticing national divides.  The habituation to dividing the nation into distinct blocks of a data-driven landscape oddly omits deeper understandings of the regions, even if they are organized around somewhat selective samplings of information, even as they erase the historical context or situations that motivated these divides.

If these are artifacts of the infographics that flood the airwaves and even more the internet, such on-demand maps provide readily orchestrated images that all too often prey on our sense of a historical divide, for all their almost intolerable historical thin-ness.  The GIS-derived maps work by defining imagined boundary lines through preferences that embody new regions of coherence, creating coherent of blocks of voters and regions that seem definitively removed from one another, and almost removed from time, focussing on the present and short-term decisions about politics of apparently diminished historical perspective.  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–by challenging their readers’ relations to the symbolization of space.

The United States seems to fracture once again on parallel 36°30′, slightly below the line of Vitamin D insufficiency.  The latitudinal line is less rooted in reaction to a historical moment like the 1861 secession, however–the event which began the US Civil War–but to the region’s numinous mythistory.  The mythos of image of regional independence, if stripped of a clear political ideology, is recast as a symbolic frontier of lower gasoline taxes.  But the line gains its symbolic purchase in no small part for its historical resonance of an actual past historical divide–even if it makes no reference or gesture to note it.  The line mirrors not only those states once-seceding from the union, but a map of where the institution of slavery was most prevalent in 1860.  This is the same map, in other words, where the sociologists Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen posited a longstanding divide shaped in no small part by the existence of incentives for reinforcing racist institutions even after slavery was nominally abolished; the map oddly recalls, in a tacit sense, albeit one submerged in our cultural memory, the distinct institutions and political attitudes legitimized institutional discrimination as strategic means of containing or resisting Reconstruction, which today inform, they argued, opposition to affirmative action.  It is striking that the division of the nation into two halves was encoded in graphic form when the Superintendant of the US Census, Mr. Henry Gannett, used electoral statistical to distribute the popular in the Presidential election of 1880, for the Scribners’ Historical Atlas of 1883, to explain how the nation, in the face of deep Southern resistance, elected the Republican James Garfield to the White House.

In Gannet’s map, one encounters an afterimage of the Civil War and moment of secession in the continued coherence of anti-Republicanism that seems embodied by the South.  If Acharya and colleagues suggested that the “cataclysmic event” of Emancipation threatened to undermine the longstanding dynamic of economic and political power, Gannett’s selective shading in his color map charted the distribution of the popular vote into red-dyed regions of anti-Republican sentiment that express the rejection of of observers to ensure Emancipation was achieved, and the echo of fiercely anti-Republican sentiment, that give an eerily similarly quality to the shifting physiognomy of the nation in a single statistical map. But the historical referent of the receding past of Secession and of slavery suggest a far more accurate reading of the national pulse than the demagoguery of the infographic of the Gas Tax Latitudinal Divide.

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

Gannett’s map embraces a land of two colors, but its divide between political parties evidences the two standards of toleration of slavery that had been effectively  sanctioned in the Missouri Compromise.  Denis Wood observed that all maps “perform the act of statehood.”  This function may be doubly true of maps of electoral results.  The divides that re-emerge within such infographics offer a technology for parsing the nation, however:  and it is no surprise that the resurgence of political polarization of the nation along an issue framed as nation, casting local debates and allegiances as congruent with nation concerns, has brought the efflorescence of infographics that cannot only be tied to GIS, so much as the materialization of dissensus in a vision of the nation.   To be sure, the widespread defection of a generation Southern Democrats after the 2010 Obama election set in motion a divide, that encouraged a latitudinal divide to materialize in maps 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 residue from a century and a half about federal presence in the south, but the “inequalities” it illustrates reveals disrupted what Wood called the “performance of statehood” along a startlingly similar–and deeply resonant–geographic dividing lines.  The recent remapping of historical divides in gasoline taxes are not in themselves bids to rewrite the coherence of territorial unity, but clearly gesture to threats to the coherence of the sovereign status of the country that  maps of Southern Secession try to process, and which haunted the first statistical mappers of the nation in the period following the Civil War.  The Gas-Tax Map is of course ostensibly focussed only on the present, and far more dominated by the short-term than the historical, but offers something like an afterimage of this divided vision of the nation.  The addition of historical perspective on how infographics work in figuring and forging an image of the nation may be a needed counterpart to the declarative insistence of discrepancies of unequal taxation that it seems to suggest.

The transformation of the map into differently-hued blocks illustrates the mental jujitsu somewhat specific to the medium of infographics, which replace the symbolic coherence of the nation with a fragmented version, upending the performative power of a symbolic unity.  One often can’t help looking at the above data visualization, or the images that render the mid-term elections in clear divides, as a 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. For 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 split the nation in ways that seem difficult to bridge.

2.  The Gasoline-Tax Divide eerily resurrects a divide between northern and southern states around slave-holding.  Indeed, a sit is rendered, 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 south, where Paul resides, where 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?” is still haunted by a divide.

4.  The recycling of this still-traumatic divide is examined in another 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 cognitive quickness with infographics as the above or of the midterm elections of 2014 write off 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 parallel 36°30’N that enshrined a scarring divide across the nation by affirming the rights to own in the Missouri Compromise.   Recent 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

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.  This was the line below which the rights of former slaves were not fully protected by presidents after Lincoln, who were sensitive to the strong Democratic redoubts across the south, as Rutherford B. Hayes feared loosing the south, which, if in 1870 he had won some seats in, in later elections it had gone almost uniformly democratic, as an island in search of protecting its own relative liberties.

5.  Such early data visualizations attempt to describe the historical past in a single map, and struggled valiantly with the limits of the narrative content of a data visualization of two- or three-color blocks.  For the above image is almost blissfully mute about the historical experience what happened on the ground, presenting deep divides whose coloration cannot offer perspectives on or how the institution of enslavement was actually lived.  How could such an experience  be contained by a latitudinal parallel, one might ask, across a divide that has apparently effectively created two separate polities, and how could such a line survive even as socioeconomic relations have shifted in the national terrain?

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.


Such symbolic divides seem to haunt maps, as if scars were inscribed upon them, seem “afterimages” of  the historical moments that and experiences that earlier maps encode.  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–from the prevalence of execution of imprisoned men across the Southern states, and the response of mass incarceration mapped in an earlier post, as both political parties responded to the deep anxieties by quintupling our prison populations from 1972, when it stood at 300,000, to over two million today, independently from crime.

Can such afterimages of the institution of slavery be traced in these maps, despite their apparent denial of the past?  The impact of slavery’s institution–and the reluctance to relinquish such divides of difference or to redirect taxes for a public good–may have been all the more indelible in proportion to the institutional forms of promoting racist sentiments and resistance to cultural and institutional changes that promoted changes in the economic status of blacks in the south.   For the authority of both images are deeply informed by the extreme descriptive thin-ness that are endemic to all data visualizations of the country.  The sheen of two-, three-, or four-tone data visualizations which promise to orient us to a polarization of political beliefs 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 “informational” value 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.

Indeed, the alleged objectivity in the medium of infographics might seem to lie in the ease with which they are created.  But it is even more striking how such infographics have resurrected the claims of objectivity, long debunked, in the political map.  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 in order to make apparent 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 American Petroleum Institute who released the map or 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 ninth U.S. Census, give viewers 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–a map revolutionary, to some extent, in including all inhabitants of the United States within the nation’s population, even if its instructions reveal a preoccupation with those of “African blood.”

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 visually striking choropleth map of the distribution of slavery across the south quickly provided a strongly pro-Union image, convincingly rooting the economy of the southern states in the institution of slavery to which many wanted to direct attention:

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 tacitly echo of this earlier divide?  A modern reproduction of the same graphic of the concentration of blacks in the South in 1860 has been argued to reflect a modern map of sociocultural disparities of economic opportunity.

6.  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 antirepublican sentiment across much of the south.   As Gannett and Hewes’ other maps, it demonstrated 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

 Library of Congress

Employing such a visually arresting shade of carmine red in the map is not only striking.  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, but also to use red as a pigment to describe national division, and promote a narrative of national dividedness that was a strong carry-over from the Civil War, if not to “map” the memory of slave-holding and the Missouri Compromise in an effectively arresting cartographical format, making a retinal impression on the viewer as well as conveying information.  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 cof 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 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 across the areas with such deeply rooted racial discrimination in the Southern states.

1880-popular-vote-for-hgPopular 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 “afterimages” of southern secession by relying on repeating clear chromatic differences.  The divisions came to be incorporated in a performance of the nation’s continued coherence in a government-sanctioned map, and indeed create a tacit narrative about national division that all readers of the map would have retained.

The mapping of shifting 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 Gannett mapped the ration of the predominant vote to the total vote, focussing 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 reuse of the familiar chromatic format from Gannett’s earlier map of distributing the popular vote is clearly dialogic.  The attempt to map the totality of the nation in 1888–by which time the carmine block of red-hued anti-Republican votes,  long understood as concentrated in the Southern states, had gained a considerable collective density in the Deep South, which shift from rosy pink to carmine on either side of the latitudinal line–with the deeper carmine reserved for South Carolina and Mississippi, and north Carolina and Tennessee and even Alabama fading to a far lighter shade of pink.  (The pronounced pockets of deep red in South Carolina and on the lower banks of the Mississippi, suggest,as well as a probable suppression of the black vote, afterimages of Southern independence.)

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

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 rendered in explicitly cartographical 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.


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 an area rich with unsettled local resentments, and of oppositional divides, the likes of which we have, not so oddly, only recently begun to see recurring once again, but were, it feels like, also very much always with us, but just repressed or something that we were just not able to look at or recognize, and ready to suppress.   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–without recognizing the trauma of its historical division–in ways that erase the memories that earlier maps so clearly tacitly preserved.

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 “afterimages” of an optical nature are the result of retinal impressions especially intense colors or sudden bursts of light leave in the eye–whether in optometry exams or after staring at sunsets or, less pleasurably, backlit computer screens.  Such bursts of light imprint the fovea and leave after-effects, continuing even we close our eyes, in our retinas, that float in apparent day-glo hues that seem suspended in our line of sight, and only fade with time.  In the manner that these oddly colored images hover in our field of vision as disembodied forms, removed spatial bearings, mapped events can haunt a place.  The scares evident in specific maps can act, superimposed upon space, like scars, capturing divides that continue to haunt data visualizations.  Their survival seems an interesting extension of the analogy we draw between maps and vision, even if data visualizations don’t appeal to perceptual models, and are oddly echoed in the strong colors that data visualizations adopt, as if to leave similarly strong afterimages in our minds, despite their relative historical poverty.

7.  The existence of such cartographical ‘afterimages’ seems an especially appropriate concept to use to discuss the chromatic divide red v. 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.


However, the election might be best known in relation to this post for how it revealed a similar division, not to sectorization, on behalf of Wallace’s Independent South-based candidacy, largely viewed on TV in black and white:

Cronkite 68 Election NIght

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.

8.  Our current collective fascination with how data visualizations reduce a problem and sum up a status quo seem to find their corollary in how the chromatic division the land are accepted as explanatory tools to decode the politics of our conflicted present.  This leads us to valorize images that obscure their historical poverty, and privilege distributions only over the short-term.  But if they perpetuate the restricted temporal horizon, in privileging the access to the things as they are 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.

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 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.

9.  The overly tidy geographical 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

Is it a coincidence that the problem of race, long suppressed, was resurgent in this election, when a far whiter, and far older, selection of voters made their voices known at the polls.

White 75%

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.

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary of Congress

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.


Library of Congress (detail of above)

The echo of this divide that has appeared in the recent midterm elections of 2010 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 along 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, the mid-term elections assembled perhaps the whitest and the oldest electorate in some time, as resistance to Obama’s presidency mobilized much of the southern vote.  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 fell 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, earnestly informing the nation, “if you live here, you live in Blue America,” but “if you live here, you live in Red America,” before a map that he claimed 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 infographic–although this CNN data visualization surely provides less of a mirror or image of the country than John 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 John 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.  It was difficult to frame consensus in as during the polarized political opinion in the aftermath of Reconstruction after the Civil War, but there was considerable interest in trying to frame and assess that consensus within national maps, and indeed anxiety about the lack of post-war consensus that would lead to the formation of a government.  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, today, see produced  are examples of how maps lie, and how we rely on them to frame our national unity–and to mend the growing gap evident in visualizations of the national electorate.  For the notion of mapping national unity goes to the point of peacefully moving past the national divisions of an election, and embodying consensus in the face of a divisive election.

10.  If such data visualizations perpetuate a “red” versus “blue” dichotomy that arrests the eye, it obscures areas of grey.  Such areas are more evident in a map of Senate races.  Although it distorts voters’ preferences–actual voting preferences of the electorate are often effectively silenced or erased by their amalgamation in a single dominant hue– the precursor of modern infographics to which U.S. historian Susan Shulten recently called attention as helping process political polarization shortly after the Civil War creates a far more detailed accounting for local divides on a county-by-county level.   Such maps work with considerably greater thin-ness than the colors employed in Gannett’s statistical map.  Gannet’s map showed a nation strikingly divided on somewhat similar lines in a similarly polarizing election that was rooted in a clearer political divide, but where the salience of the divide was closely examined.  Indeed, the current map manufactures a divide along lines we’ve become a bit overly familiar, as if to present the election as a verdict on the divide between parties and in the nation, although the current divide seems most likely to be less sharply pronounced than that one hundred and thirty five years ago.  The greater possibilities for engagement in Gannett’s 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.

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary 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, that appears a unified block of voting red:

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.  Schulten argued that Gannett’s statistical map promoted a new understanding of the country’s division despite its political polarization, and provided a way for readers to struggle with understandings of national unity–in an early antecedent to the aesthetic of the infographic–and breach the historical depth of local or regional political divisions.   The images not only created an after-image of secession, but created a powerful surrogate for the relation to the nation, and indeed peacefully progressing to the conclusion of a contested election.  It maps the depths of divides absent from the historical flatness–and short-term purview–endemic to the tastes that datamaps both exploit and respond to.

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.

11.  The way that data visualizations function as maps in the performance of statehood has been increasingly disrupted in a range of info-graphics.  The disruptions such visualizations chart reveal the persistence of poverty across certain areas of the country–a poverty we far too often naturalize, or which is absent from the national maps that we draw and the divides that we emphasize within them.  It’s striking that the very divide mapped in the header to this post–the Gasoline-Tax Divide–creates an eye-grabbing continuity across many of the same southern states that jumps out within the contemporary maps 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 above 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.


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

12.  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 and killed on Canfield Drive off West Florissant, after he allegedly “intimidated” a 240 lb. white policeman and refused to “clear the road.”  Brown’s death has sparked 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.  The recognition across America of the injustice of the ruling might lead one to re-evaluate Rand Paul’s mean-spirited observation in Time magazine that “Something is wrong with criminal justice in America.”  Paul writes as if 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%, observing caustically that “The failure of the war on poverty has created a culture of violence” which placed Ferguson 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 creates a deep sense of alienation and indeed a geography of alienation, as much as being created by a culture of violence encouraged by the “war on drugs,” or demanding a reassertion of “moral codes that have slowly eroded and left us empty with despair” and politicians who have betrayed the public trust by encouraging the “poverty trap.”  Yet news reports attend to how much marijuana was in Michael Brown’s system, and the inability of police to deal with the violent nature of urban life–as if that would warrant shooting at a man without a gun in a suburban setting.  Such pieties as Paul espouses conceal the outsized dangers that all young black men face of twenty-one times to be shot dead by police than white teenagers:  a difference between 31 young black men shot per million by police for every 1.5 young white man.  Paul is quick to identify the danger for black men as the product of high-crime areas:  but the suburban community of Ferguson was hardly a center of crime.  Reform of justice might begin from a bigger rethinking of the inequalities of race, indeed, and the geography of alienation that afflict urban and extra-urban areas alike, a geography perpetuated by the mythistory of the South and its perpetuation of segregation.

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.

Twitter Map

Can we start from recognizing the costs of the deep southern separatism on the ground?  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.

13.  The 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 elide that undergird Ferguson.  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.)

14.  Data visualizations recall 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.

One might hence 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 leaned Democratic or Republican.  Schulten powerfully presented Gannett’s earlystatistical 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.

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary of Congress

The political division that it mapped as “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 seeking to “visualize the spatial dynamics of political power” in an icon of political polarization, it processed the legacy of southern secession by affirming the strong after-image, just twenty years secession had been 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 map’s representational functions 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.

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary of Congress

Even in a time of such heightened political extremism, 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 quite 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 local stories that they tell.
15.  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.


Library of Congress

The elegant 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 duration of the “after-image” that Gannett’s map renders so indelibly in detail.

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

16.  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.  But the division he drew that separated Scotland from England and Wales was curiously reiterated, this time as an imagined string of the Cheviot Hills whose westward progression reflected the separateness of Scotland, in Samuel Augustus Mitchell‘s 1860 “County Map of England and Wales, printed and published in Philadelphia on the eve of the U.S. Civil War:

Cheviot Hills Divide Scotland 1860“County Map Of England, And Wales” (Philadelphia, 1860); courtesy Rumsey Cartography Associates

The potential 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--have hesitated at dividing a national space of apparent unity that the outline of the United Kingdom has long defined.  In the recent 2014 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 “after-image” of the mapping of a prospect of Scots autonomy that the referendum’s supporters would build upon.)

We clearly 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 show, aside from the readiness of resistance to taxation.  Such 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 show 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.   Tthe Southern Poverty Law Center presented a compelling a “geography of hate” by mapping actual hate groups.  The persistence of such advocacy groups grew from “pressing concerns” of collective hatred, from the Kentucky-based IKA–the “Imperial Klans of America”–to the Illinois-based BOK–or “Brotherhood of the Klan.”  But if the resulting image could be interpreted as evidence of the persistence such an “after-images,” the persuasiveness of dividing states in the “Hate Map” is, dismayingly, not so compelling as a distribution of a clear political topography that divides the United States:  the point is their persistence in our country, but the map blurs the resolution of specific pockets where these groups might be allowed to flourish in a broad range of states, or the relative size of these insidious organizations that perpetuate discontent:  the map is a chilling image, but also an unclear reflection, although it is clear how the cresting above forty (terrifying as it is) distinguishes Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida–as well as California, the loss leader in this metric.


The map appears to isolate regions where hatred finds its focus, but of course can’t be readily mapped onto each region’s residents.

17.  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.

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

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary 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.

18.  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

Data-visualizations often intentionally offer distorted oversimplifications to readers, and fabricating divides in space as if they were permanent in nature.

Afterward:  Re-Examining the Divided Vote in Henry Gannett’s Map as an Image of the Nation

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.   In contest, the mapping of the popular vote after the Civil War responded to a specific localized crisis in  the country’s 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 of a medium of reflecting deeply-held opinions in inscribing the electoral differences across the United States.  Acting like the cartographical conscious of the divided nation, he mapped 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 not only characterized the American political landscape for some time.  The division that began in quite different guises, however, in the aftermath of the Civil War, that pale before the recent divide between Republican and Democrats.  The divisions in the popular vote of 1880 were so stark to lead Gannet to come to terms with their divisions.  He preserved in cartographical terms a record of the divided nation that would readily explain the Republican victory in ways that could be readily consumed, that provided a compelling record of the after-image of the divided polity for an audience whose familiarity with maps of political unity was only relatively recently developed.

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.


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 apparent 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 show, 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.

1880-popular-vote-mapLibrary 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 in the synoptic fashion that we have become most familiar, if only because electoral votes are counted by the state as a whole.

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


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.


Filed under data visualizations, infographics, mapping national divides, Red states v. Blue States, statistical maps