Among those of us who love old maps, the good people at the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries project have digitized and uploaded historical information on the shape of American counties. With this data one can animate how America’s political boundaries have changed since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia Colonies. The above video shows historic county boundaries from 1630 to 1910 (shortly after Oklahoma and Indian Territory joined to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907). Please note these boundaries show the creation of government-defined geographic units, not necessarily where population is located.
Another great thing about this data is the level of detail available. For instance, focusing on the monumental changes that Virginia has gone through is quite interesting:
Note the emergence of many of Virginia’s Independent Cities at the turn of the 20th Century.
Things get more interesting when these county files are merged with historical census data. Inspired by our previous post on “Every person gets a dot,” I decided to look at county population dot densities from the first United States Census of 1790 to the recent 2010 Census. Here, every dot represents 5,000 people:
Dustin Cable is a Policy Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where he conducts research on topics that lie at the intersection of demographics, politics, and public policy.
The Census population estimates for 2011, released early in April, received a good deal of attention in the media, in large part because the estimates showed a noticeable change in population growth patterns from those of the last decade. Growth from April 2010 to July 2011 was concentrated in urban areas in contrast to the previous pattern when, at the height of the housing market in 2006, the highest rates of growth were in the outer-suburban counties. USA Today produced an excellent map showing the change in growth patterns by comparing the growth rate in 2006 with that of 2011.
Several weeks ago, I posted an article on the importance of humanizing data so that people better understand the stories that lie behind the numbers. Sometimes these data can help us uncover profound truths about ourselves as well as provide insights into society as a whole.
The internet has been all a buzz about the recent release of the 1940 Census data. After 72 years, the confidentiality of the 1940 Census has been lifted, and all of the information within it is now available to the public. What makes this decade’s release of past census data special is that all of it is online for free, in JPEG image format, for our viewing pleasure. Everything from people’s names, income, and what they did for a living 72 years ago is available for any pajama-wearing internet surfer. No more dealing with microfilm, magnetic tape, or online genealogy subscriptions, things that can be annoying and require effort to glean any insights from. For the casual genealogist, like myself, this was good news. Continue reading