Saturday, December 16, 2006

Weekend Five: Maps

The Cherokee Overhill Towns
(as taken from Henry Timberlake’s book, and featured on the TNGenNet Map Project, which I recommend Below)

The mapping of planet is one of humanity's oldest scientific activities. By scientific, I should say, I mean a systematic effort to describe the observable world. Of course there are pragmatic ends to cartography . . . without it, managing real estate (up until recently the only truly durable form of wealth) becomes infinitely more difficult, navigating the land or sea becomes treacherous, and the construction of anything larger than a small home becomes perilous. And maps are responsible, to a large extent, for defining the identities of most people on this planet - if you doubt that sentiment, consider that most states had at best ill-defined borders until the late 17th Century at the least, and for some states until the 20th Century, and consider further that these borders generally are artificial - if you were German and caught (finally) in France, well, you learn French. And vice-versa. We needn't even get into what maps do for the egos of "great" nations either - all you have to do is look at a map of the world during one of the two great waves of colonialism and remember how proud that would make the average European or North American - whose wallet it was draining - to see their appropriate color spreading across the map (Red for Britain, Blue or Purple for France, Orange for Germany - oh, you know the principle, you've played Risk).

All that said, what I like, honestly, is the artistry of maps. I love the elegance of a well-made map, the way that they seem to hold stories. They remind me of pirates and of hobbits and other assorted literary genre. I know. I'm a nerd. Such is life. All this said, I decided to dig up five sites for those cartophiles out there who also happen to be fans of the Hills. So here we go.

1) Appalachian Regional Commission Data and Research Maps: Tons of socioeconomic and environmental maps with downloadable support data in Excel format - nerd heaven. Chief limits? It is the Federally defined Appalachia, that leaves out obviously Appalachian regions and includes some areas that, well, for lack of a better word, are flatter than a pancake.

2) TNGenWeb: The Maps Our Ancestors Follows: Absolutely a pleasure - a casual site that has a plethora of fascinating information. Must see? The animated county formation map and the Overhill Cherokee towns.

3) Alabama Maps: A service of the University of Alabama's Department of Geography, this collection of maps is a cartophile's dream. The site is easy to navigate, the degree of interaction is astounding, and the collection is fantastic - to get to any of the Appalachian states' sites, all you have to do is hit up the States page. Or you could just hit up my favorites (this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this or this).

4) Maps of Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The most popular national park in the United States is just down the road from me - on those one in ten days the smog is down in Knoxville (or whenever I roll north to Maryville) I can see it - the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The natural beauty of the park stands is, in many ways, misleading. The park is neither a wilderness (in the sense of it being unexplored territory) nor has it long been uninhabited. Indeed, some scholars debate whether or not any parts of the park still hold uncut old growth, or whether the entire park is recovered forestland. Regardless, this site is a pleasure, a healthy dose of historical cartography. And you know that's fun.

5) National Geographic: Sure, it seems, well, instinctive. You need a map, you check your pile of old National Geo's for a reference. Doy. But we can't let the doy factor overcome us when we consider the fundamental significance of the Yellow Rectangle's contributions to humanity's understanding of itself. Including, of course, Appalachia. Must-sees on this one? Discover Appalachia (the best advertising supplement in human history), the Carolina-Tennessee Road Trip, and for your Christmas giving delight, the one map every Appalachian or student of the Hillfolk should own, the recent Geotourism MapGuide to Appalachia.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I love maps.

What do think about the ARC as a whole, Eric? Chad Edwards posted a piece about them at our Appalachian Greens blog and I think I'm going to republish it this week some time if you're interested.

I'd really like to hear some Appalachian opinions about it.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

To begin with, I should say that I believe that the good President Kennedy’s interest in Appalachia was, well, less than genuine – I have heard too many stories of his extensive system of pay-offs and corruption throughout my home state of West Virginia to believe that he sought anything more than electoral college votes – the method and manner in which the ARC was established, to my mind, demonstrates this better than anything else – Appalachia ceased to be a rational political-economic zone with certain shared sociocultural traits (specifically, a rural mountain range and series of river valleys defined by dependence on agriculture and the harvesting of timber and minerals in which most towns and cities are either religious centers, educational centers, or market/transportation centers, etc.) and became a politically negotiated amalgam of counties stretching across a continent. Not to set the tone too negatively, but there it is.

Hmmm. . . well, I can say I've never seen concrete evidence that the ARC has actually achieved much at all, on a large-scale, at least. I believe that the problem with the old ARC is multifaceted. First, there are way, way too many cooks in the kitchen. No one is in charge and everyone is in charge. In a bureaucracy, this is a death nell. Second, the program’s scale is, frankly, insane, the product more of political haranguing than rational planning. Obviously, if it were to be retained, it should be divided into political-economic regions that were far more rational, for instance an Ohio River Commission, a New River Valley/Shenandoah Valley Commission, a Northern Appalachian Commission, and a Southern Appalachia Commission. Areas left out of these regions because of politics would needs be included, and vice-versa, areas that shouldn’t be included should be excluded – Northern Virginia, for instance, needs little economic aid from such a service. That said, the mission of the ARC is nearly as gargantuan as its geography – it must be narrowed. The Tennessee Valley Authority, for all its costs, achieved its goals with incredible results, largely because its approach to improving the political economy of the Tennessee River watershed was, in policy terms, an elegant one, one that was guaranteed to establish economic gravity – professionals plus good transportation and communication infrastructure in good country with cheap energy leads to economic growth of the highest order – when coupled with the establishment of the Smoky Mountain National Park and the establishment and growth of a series of high quality universities and colleges, the effect grows even more substantially.

Well, having been wordy, I guess what I’d say is simply the ARC should, ideally, be shattered, reformed, and far more specifically focused but, and this is a huge but, I don’t believe the political will to do so exists, particularly in the absence of another FDR. Even if this isn’t the case, the system should be redesigned so that at a given interval, say at census intervals, membership of counties will be reconsidered by an independent board and counties that no longer need subsidies should be stricken to allow for the concentration of resources in areas of the most importance and to allow for a better evaluation of local and regional administrators.


Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with your assessment of the ARC. I've never been particularly impressed with any of their "progress" and frankly outside of people who have been involved with it- I've never heard an Appalachian say anything positive about it.

One thing bothers me in particular is that it is basically run by 13 governors- from New York to Ohio to Mississippi. How much are any of those 13 men, even the ones who may have Appalachian roots, going to really to understand how we as people really live or what our real needs are?