An Ever Growing Map

Space. The amount of space left available in the United States is always diminishing. This was especially true in the later part of the twentieth century. After the 1990’s, there was an immense influx of immigrants because of the Cold War as people wanted to start anew. People migrated to new places and constructed new communities to support the mass of people migrating. Although it may not have seemed like an important problem at the time, you can see that now the influx of people has presented a challenge relating to the space available in certain parts of the United States. This being said, certain places were severely affected. This map shows this extreme dichotomy.

The Population Density Map of US 1990 is a visual representation of the uneven distribution of the population within America. It uses a quasi-3-D topographical technique that depicts the population densities. This map was a front to a much bigger problem happening at the time. Just before 1990, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 drastically increased the number of immigrants allowed into the United States, resulting in 32.7 million immigrants travelling to America between 1990 and 2000. Although the Immigration Act of 1990 established a new “cap” on the level of immigrants, the number of admissions was still increasing because the fine print of the act could be distorted and manipulated.

The population problem didn’t start here though. In the 1920’s, the national-origins quota system allowed for each nationality to have a quota of immigrants based on the nations’ representation already in country. Having heard of the land of opportunity, most immigrants to the major cities that they heard the most about, which is exemplified by New York City, and most of the East Coast. Because of this, in June of 1963, John F. Kennedy started a reform for this process of immigration, stating the quota system was “intolerable.” Although Kennedy’s assassination prevented him from carrying out the reform, Congress took up his cause and implemented the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This worsened the problem by allowing the reuniting of families from foreign countries, and even allowing skilled labor forces into the United States. This caused an even greater migration of immigrants into the United States; looking at the map, this explains why populations were increasing in the middle of America as there was more space. Now, this was only legal immigration — illegal immigration was a whole other situation. What the map doesn’t show is that number of illegal immigrants grew from 540,000 to 2.5 million in the years between 1969 and 1990; this increased at a greater rate from 1990 to 2016 with almost 11.3 million illegal immigrants being in country today. Even in supposed statistical based cartography, there is still room for error, and even bias, as some individuals would not have been accounted for — purposefully or not. For example, there is no information regarding if the populations in the map contain the number of illegal immigrants. Biased or not, the overwhelming wave of people flooding into the United States will eventually cause problems.

As the map is based off of varying data, it is very unique; it is different to other kinds of cartography in the sense that it actually does grow. In the words of Denis Wood, “maps themselves don’t grow (or develop),” however the processes behind cartography do.[i] Thus, since this map represents increasing data, it grows in itself. If you look closely at the map, in the small print, the small print accentuates the difference in size of populations in certain areas compared to others. There are also figures that show how population density varies in different parts of the United States.

As population increases exponentially, maps are needed to see how the world is changing. This map does exactly that! Maps are tools, and the more you know about them, the more you can utilize them to do whatever you need. Information is needed on the map before you can truly understand what is trying to be portrayed. For this map, it is rather statistical, however the statistical data for immigration is left out in whole. This map could be completely different if the number of immigrants were incorporated into the map, or maybe they are, and are just not mentioned. With more background knowledge behind a map, the more powerful a map can be in the right hands.

[i] Wood, Denis, and John Fels. The Power of maps. London: Routledge, 1993.



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2 Responses to An Ever Growing Map

  1. Alexandra Beran says:

    This map is extremely interesting because it shows how the past space affects how we see it today. Immigration shapes the American culture, but feeds into polarization of the nation. People prefer to live in certain areas over others, except some people do not have a choice. Most immigrants fled to the cities, but after space became limited the middle of America began to get occupied. Policy greatly affects the culture of our nation, and with this map we are able to see which areas are most affected. There are strong opinions on immigration law, and this map can be used as a tool for policy makers to analyze the problems within immigration. This population distribution map is extremely political and leaves room for a lot of interpretation from the viewers. The map can be used as a fight against immigration, or as a fight to move people to the less populated areas of America. Either way, there is a lot of room for viewers to interpret the map and use it as a tool to form their own opinions about the immigration problem. I would like to add that the map is visually appealing with the raised land symbolizing more people in a certain area. One can easily tell that the coasts are favored and there is a lot of empty space in the center of our country.

  2. Daniel Devine says:

    Your connection to the Denis Wood reading on multiple occasions makes your overall thesis and presentation of this population density map serve it well. The idea that as we grow as a population we require more maps with increasing detail connects back to discussions we had earlier in the semester. Advanced societies such as the American one have so much information we need a plethora of mediums to properly display it all. Finally, your historical connections bring to life the true facts of this map. Looking behind the facts and asserting where these numbers come from allow someone to comprehend this map beyond its surface layer.

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