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Old July 18th, 2010, 08:24 PM   #1

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How the States Got Their Shapes


If you've ever wondered how your state got its shape, in this C-Span video Mark Stein talks about his book How States Got Their Shapes (Smithsonian Books/Collins). He explains how American states' borders were drawn and why they have their current shapes.

Topics included the influence of the Erie Canal on the shapes of Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and the sizes of Texas and California, all the western states, and pretty much all the rest. Very interesting. Following his remarks, Mr. Stein responded to questions from the audience. He is a screenwriter and playwright. He has taught writing and drama at Catholic University and American University.

From the C-Span Video Library - 1-Hour
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Old July 18th, 2010, 09:09 PM   #2

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Re: How the States Got Their Shapes


I watched a documentary on How the States got their Shape a few weeks ago. I want to say it was on the History channel, but that just can't be correct since they don't play any history or educational programs any longer . It was fascinating enough for me to be interested in buying the book after I'm finished reading some of the dozen I'm currently in the middle of reading.

They aren't teaching much of this in schools. Although I live in PA, I'm Marylander by birth and by heart. My ten year old is also a Marylander by birth and heart and the other day he asked me if Mason Dixon was related to Sheila Dixon (thief and former mayor of Baltimore.) Needless to say he got himself an impromptu history and geography lesson that afternoon.
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Old July 19th, 2010, 06:14 AM   #3

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Re: How the States Got Their Shapes


Quote:
Originally Posted by KAMelton View Post
I watched a documentary on How the States got their Shape a few weeks ago. I want to say it was on the History channel, but that just can't be correct since they don't play any history or educational programs any longer . It was fascinating enough for me to be interested in buying the book after I'm finished reading some of the dozen I'm currently in the middle of reading.

They aren't teaching much of this in schools. Although I live in PA, I'm Marylander by birth and by heart. My ten year old is also a Marylander by birth and heart and the other day he asked me if Mason Dixon was related to Sheila Dixon (thief and former mayor of Baltimore.) Needless to say he got himself an impromptu history and geography lesson that afternoon.
I've long been interested in the shapes of the states. I learned a lot that I was curious about of my own state by reading the history of the Indiana Territory, and how the states within its boundaries were peeled off. In the beginning I was only curious how the state which was the territory's namesake, Indiana, could end up being the smallest of the five. From looking at the original maps I could see the states various permutations, and it appears that we were most fortunate to have forward looking legislators at the time, or Indiana could've been deprived of access to Lake Michigan which completes its paradigm as a transportation hub.

Since many of Indiana pioneers and first families came from Maryland (and N.C.) I was curious about MD, particularly the Maryland panhandle to the west and its topography. The link between the main part of the state and the panhandle narrows down to a section only about a couple of miles wide. The determinent to that panhandle section being a part of Maryland had to be terrain and ease of transportation east and west more than anything else. The National Highway (US 40) was built from east to west through mountain passes coming through there, eventually connecting our own state in the early years of the nineteenth century to the east coast, and all the migration that would come with it.
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Old July 19th, 2010, 06:32 AM   #4

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Re: How the States Got Their Shapes


Quote:
Originally Posted by KAMelton View Post
I watched a documentary on How the States got their Shape a few weeks ago. I want to say it was on the History channel, but that just can't be correct since they don't play any history or educational programs any longer . It was fascinating enough for me to be interested in buying the book after I'm finished reading some of the dozen I'm currently in the middle of reading.

They aren't teaching much of this in schools. Although I live in PA, I'm Marylander by birth and by heart. My ten year old is also a Marylander by birth and heart and the other day he asked me if Mason Dixon was related to Sheila Dixon (thief and former mayor of Baltimore.) Needless to say he got himself an impromptu history and geography lesson that afternoon.
You are right, it was on the History Channel. It debuted about four months ago. I showed it to my kids on the last few days of school because it was such an interesting show. Our American History teacher showed it during his unit on the Civil War because a lot of the shapes of our states developed during the Civil War. It was a fascinating show.
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Old July 20th, 2010, 08:25 AM   #5

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Re: How the States Got Their Shapes


Below is a map drawn by Thomas Jefferson; This was his ideal map of the new lands west of the original 13 states.

At the bottom of the map are the words “Here we see Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the division of the states West of the Appalachians; this would become the foundation for further expansion.” Of course reality of international relations, geography, practical limitations would interfere with his ideal plan. I think it’s interesting that his division produced states in the middle range of size as compared to the original ones, and except for those in the south, and present day Ohio bear little resemblance to the end result. It appears to me that Jefferson most had economics in mind, and the economics of geography is the facility of transportation which has always been access to navigable waters. At that time the Wabash was seen as a navigable river.

Click the image to open in full size.


His was a departure from the original scheme of the colony’s claim of “western lands” or their western reserves. It was claimed that the “landed” states had a great potential advantage over the six “landless” states.

“It was assumed that the future sale of western lands would enrich the landed states and possibly allow them to operate without any form of taxation. The landless states feared that they would lose residents and dwindle into insignificance.”

Click the image to open in full size.

Click HERE to read more on the Western Lands

Last edited by Urbs Aedificator; July 20th, 2010 at 12:08 PM.
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Old July 20th, 2010, 07:27 PM   #6

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Re: How the States Got Their Shapes


Maryland has the strangest of boundaries and one of the weirdest shapes. Maryland was the colony between Pennsylvania and Virginia, minus a chunk removed as the colony of Delaware. The Potomac River has been the VA boundary, but during a legal decision in the 1700's gave the river to MD so the boundary is the high tide line on the Virginia shore. The northern boundary was surveyed by Mason and Dixon whose survey ended up defining the slave/mostly non slave states and the North and the South prior to the Civil War. Previous versions of the boundary were as far north as York, PA. Another chunk was cut out for Washington DC, on both sides of the river (a 10 mile square), but, assuming that DC would never get that big, the VA part was given back in the early 1800's that became Arlington County. That makes Washington the only city to bounded on all four sides by the same state, but not being part of that state (the southern boundary, the Potomac, is in Maryland). Another detached part was the section of the Delmarva peninsula which is in Virginia. The remote Virginia Eastern Shore is contiguous only to Maryland and doesn't touch any part of Virginia, but it's in Virginia anyway. A 21 mile long bridge had to be built to the Shore to allow travel within the Commonwealth.
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