Monday, August 29, 2011
I ran across this fascinating map of the United States, which uses 2000 census data to depict the dominant group, by ancestry, in each American county. There are a lot of interesting trends which the map reveals. Who knew that the Germans dominated so much of the United States? What's up with all the English in Utah? Can you believe so many counties have dominant French/Finnish/Norweigian/Dutch populations?
Here is a small version of the map. Click the link above for a much larger version, which allows a county-by-county comparison.
One of the most interesting things to me is the number and location of the counties which self-identified their ancestry as "Americans" (indicated by the cream or light yellow). Not "Native Americans," mind you, but "Americans." To a question asking about "ancestry," this is a strange answer coming from people whose origins were obviously in Europe. To answer "American" suggests either that their knowledge of their ethnic origins is lost, or their current identification as "American" is so strong that it makes it impossible for them to answer the question accurately.
These counties are largely located in Appalachia and the South. With the exception of New England (and, obviously, the Native Americans), the residents of the counties which identify as "Americans" have generally been in North America longer than people in most other parts of the country. But in New England, the counties are clearly identified as English, Irish, Italian, or French. Why the difference? My theory is that New England includes large blocks of people who have been here several centuries and more recent (100+ years) Irish and Italian arrivals. Because they have been in the same place for a long time, or because their ancestors arrived more recently, they have a stronger ethnic identity. But the people of Appalachia did not emigrate directly from Europe to, say, Kentucky. They started in eastern Virginia, or New Jersey, or wherever, and then worked their way west. They may have been in the lower Midwest or South since the early 1800s, but the longer migration disassociated them from their European origins. They are likely largely ethnically English (or, in places, Scots-Irish), but no longer see themselves as anything other than American.
I think that this map is also interesting because it demonstrates that while we are all Americans, there are signficiant ethnic differences between the states and regions of the country that inform our attitudes towards government, etc. It would be interesting to match up this map with the counties which voted Republican or Democrat in the last presidential election.