The Cretaceous and the Black Belt
July 27, 2012 6:10 PM   Subscribe

How presidential elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline
posted by jjray (25 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
brundlefly found it; I just posted it.
posted by jjray at 6:18 PM on July 27, 2012


Super fascinating. It's the sort of topic that can be explored from a bunch of different perspectives and disciplines; history, politics, onomastics, geography, agriculture, sociology and on. Anybody got any more links or knowledge to share on this, from any angle?
posted by iamkimiam at 6:22 PM on July 27, 2012


Heh. Angle.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:24 PM on July 27, 2012


It amazes me just how much whiter the North is, county-by-county, than the South — still, after all the migration and whatnot that's gone on since the end of slavery.

I suppose it's because when I think of either region, I think of cities: "Okay, on the one hand: Atlanta. But on the other hand: Detroit. And on the one hand: Houston. But on the other hand: Minneapolis." And so on. But then when you're looking at a map (or counting electoral votes), some huge percentage of everything is rural, and that skews the balance of things way over.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:31 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was mentioned (albeit on a slightly different time frame) here ("Presidential votes by county"), as it got some attention following the 2008 election.
posted by one_bean at 6:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


These graphics are great, from a design standpoint. I can look at any handful of them and immediately infer the relationships described in the text, barely skimming. Really tells the (fascinating) story.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam: There's a lot to be said about the influence of geology on "history, politics, onomastics, geography, agriculture, sociology and so on" in your own country, which is discussed in (I think) Simon Winchester's Map That Changed The World. At some point in the past, the entirety of Great Britain got tilted upwards at the north-western end, so that the Western Highlands of Scotland and Snowdonia are made of very old rock, really low strata which were pushed up (and the stuff above worn away). As you move southeast, that same stratum (layer) of old rocks remains, but it dips lower and lower underground, and the rocks that are exposed get younger. Here's a geological map. So, for instance, the coal mining belt is exactly that linear range where the tilting put near the surface the rocks laid down during the Carboniferous Era; if you walk SW or NE from a coal mine you'll find another.

This turns out to have strong cultural effects, even discounting the Industrial Revolution which brought workers to the different mining regions, effects which go back to the Normans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans, and even earlier. If you've ever wondered why the North Of England isn't simply due north of the South Of England, it's that the cultural dividing line runs more NE-to-SW, i.e. along a stratum. There's also a geological distinction between the "Highland Zone" and the "Lowland Zone," divided along a NE-to-SW line from the Vale of York past the southern end of the Pennines and along the Welsh border to the fringes of the hilly country of Devon. Invasions begin in the Lowland Zone while resistance forms in the Highland Zone, and everything from the etymology of river names to the voting patterns in national elections reflects it. Kenneth Jackson's Language and History in Early Britain (one of my favorite books) talks about this extensively: the border between Latin-speaking and Celtic-speaking Britain falls along that line, for instance, and it's where the Saxon conquest was halted for about 50 years (supposedly by some guy named Arthur).
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


I've always found it weird that the part of the country that industrialized first, and is in many ways still the most technologically advanced, New England, has no navigable rivers. The products of Lowell and Springfield needed to be carried cross-country by ox-cart, and then rail, to the sea.

Also weird, Vermont used to be much more heavily populated and relatively wealthy - they grew the sheep that gave the wool for the mills in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and RI. Well-tended roads lead to every corner of the state. King Cotton, built on the back of slavery on a massive scale, put and end to Vermont as one of the nation's centers of wealth.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The products of Lowell and Springfield needed to be carried cross-country by ox-cart, and then rail, to the sea.

Or, in the case of Lowell, by a canal.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:08 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


So then why did they build all those factories there?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2012


Springfield, MA is along the Connecticut River, and Lowell, MA is along the Merrimack River. I'm not sure what your definition of "navigable river" is, but I'm pretty sure you're wrong.
posted by explosion at 9:09 PM on July 27, 2012


Perhaps more authoritatively, the US Army Corps of Engineers says those rivers are navigable.
posted by explosion at 9:13 PM on July 27, 2012


Canal barges were remarkably small and draw very little water. The 19th century industrial areas of MA were extensively served by them between existing waterways and manmade canals. Certainly, most of these waterways would not be useful to modern barge traffic, but those carry orders of magnitude more cargo.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:13 PM on July 27, 2012


No clue about Springfield, but Lowell was built where it was because waterfalls on the Merrimack meant plentiful power for the mills in what was one of the country's first factory towns.
posted by adamg at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a great article, don't get me wrong. It makes it okay from geology to paleontology to agronomy to history to sociology. But it doesn't make the final leap to political science -- thanks to the electoral college, presidential elections are not in any way impacted by Democratic voters in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

In the same vein: Polish elections follow the borders of Imperial Germany and Imperial Russia.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:24 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


In fact, if those heavily-black counties had been able to vote as a bloc, I wonder whether the Democratic party as we know it would even exist.

The current set of coalitions we've got is incredibly path-dependent. The parties have lined up the way they have because of the Southern Strategy. And that strategy only made sense (a) because they needed to make an end-run around the Democrats' popularity in the South after the Civil War and (b) because in a pinch you could carry every single Southern state without getting a single black vote.

Seems to me you could write a pretty good alternate history novel on the premise that the North still won the war, but decided to dissolve the Southern states entirely and draw new state lines. If the delta region of Mississippi, had had its own electoral votes during the 20th Century, or the coastal parts of the Carolinas, the world might be a pretty different place.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:53 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


So then why did they build all those factories there?

To power mills, mostly for textiles. Free energy. The technology for textile water mills was developing in Britain and New England at the time. In the south, they wanted a return to feudalism, saw themselves as neo-Normans lording over slaves and serfs, industrial revolution be damned.
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow... Absolutely mind-boggling. Thank you, jjray! The bluntness of those images, truly astonishing.


stbalbach : In the south, they wanted a return to feudalism, saw themselves as neo-Normans lording over slaves and serfs, industrial revolution be damned.

While that nicely fits in with the "For Evil's Sake" so popular with some, the real answer centers on water speeds. the North has an abundance of fast-flowing rivers, well-suited toward both downstream-transport and water-powered mills. The South had... swamps. Slow moving trickles that flow through endless tangles of vegetation.

And the irony of that - The combination of the steam engine and Young's work on refining petroleum would have made black slavery in the US a moot point within 20 years of the civil war.
posted by pla at 10:33 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


the real answer centers on water speeds. the North has an abundance of fast-flowing rivers, well-suited toward both downstream-transport and water-powered mills. The South had... swamps. Slow moving trickles that flow through endless tangles of vegetation.

That's partly true, but they were capable of harnessing water power using damns and mill runs, except it wasn't a big part of the culture to do so. And anyway there are some shallow fast moving rivers in the south that eventually did become industrialized. If you want to explain why the north initially developed mills and the south didn't solely on geographic terms, you will fall short. There were real cultural differences, beginning with the people who settled the regions to begin with and the cultures and beliefs they brought with them and developed over time. Yankees were not different from Southern Plantation manor lords simply because of the speed of rivers, or geography! Recommend checking out Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America or American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
posted by stbalbach at 11:25 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Link broken for everyone else?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:16 AM on July 28, 2012


I'm not sure what your definition of "navigable river" is, but I'm pretty sure you're wrong

LOL Merrimack!
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:42 AM on July 28, 2012


After all these years, I've finally overcome my revulsion when someone uses "impact" when what they mean is "affect." Now I just sigh a little.
posted by Trace McJoy at 4:02 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Along similar lines, there was an interesting idea in Soccernomics that explains why certain football clubs have done well historically. Cities that boomed during the industrial revolution tended to attract lots of new immigrant workers who lacked a shared culture. Football clubs gave them a common thing to rally around, and so there was much more support for the local team in industrial towns than elsewhere. This is the best explanation I've seen for why Manchester United and Liverpool each have many more titles than London-based clubs. It also explains why Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus have historically done well.

It seems like ought to be a connection between regions having large coal deposits historically and now having a world-class football club, but I'm too lazy to pursue it.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was really fascinating. Thanks for posting this.
posted by homunculus at 5:50 PM on July 28, 2012


I grew up picking shark teeth and minneballs out of the grit in the bottom of the creek beds of the Alabama black belt. This article holds no surprises for me!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:32 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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