Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How the States Got Their Shapes

I have always been fascinated by maps and geography. When I found the book How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein in my local book store, I thumbed through it and though it was worth the purchasing. So I bought the book and brought it home to read.

It is a very interesting read, while being something you can take on in pieces as the mood hits you. It is chock full of historical side notes and maps that explain how the 50 United States ended up with their unique shapes. It is not a heavily-footnoted, scholarly work, but rather in the tone of a Reader's Digest publication, suitable for all ages.

I enjoyed the book very much, and it covers many trivial matters that shaped our nation. Examples are the arc on the Delaware / Pennsylvania border, the notches along the Tennessee / Kentucky frontier, and the Missouri boot heel. But I have one major quibble. The one anomaly I had hoped would finally be explained to my satisfaction was totally ignored.

That still open question (at least in my mind) is one that I have not even found an answer to yet using Google. The issue is the fact that the eastern border of New Mexico has a notch at northernmost part where the state shares a border with the Oklahoma panhandle. You see, the NM/OK border is at 103 degrees west longitude. But most of the eastern border of New Mexico is shared with Texas, and is situated a couple of miles or so west of the 103rd meridian! Stein doesn't address this anomaly at all!

Now my suspicion is that it has something to do with the borders negotiated by Texas with the US government when it agreed to become part of the United States. But I would love to know the story behind this border zig and zag. This map from Google shows this border. If you know why this is, please feel free to let me know.

All that said, Stein's book is still highly recommended. And if you wonder why Case Western Reserve University in Ohio is named that, the book covers that as well. Just say that it has to do with when Cleveland would have been located in Connecticut!

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