Musings on being an American and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center in Boston

"Keep Dakota Out", one of Cleveland's ideas in the campaign of 1888.

No matter how much I try to avoid the subject while visiting the United States, I invariably end up in situations where I have to admit that I don't actually live there. Worst of all, it usually happens when I'm in a place where I would prefer to blend in with the locals, like at a baseball game or at Chick and Ruth's Delly in Annapolis. It's not that I'm ashamed of being an expat, it's just that other Americans tend to view us with a certain degree of suspicion. In between asking questions about life in Paris and my opinion about the French, I can sense that there are two unspoken questions that they really want to ask. "You're American, why don't you live in the United States?" and "Isn't it good enough for you?"

Conversely, I never feel more American than when I'm abroad. Nationality is the primary way that expats classify other expats -  Gitte is Danish, Sue is English and Mary Kay is American. So, imagine how stunned I was to see that I wouldn't be a citizen of the United States if President Cleveland would have had his way in 1888. Running for re-election, Cleveland wanted to keep my birth state, North Dakota, out of the union, while he was ready to admit New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Other than sunshine, Mormons and relatively hospitable climates, what do those states have that North Dakota doesn't have? 

Thank goodness that Harrison was elected in 1888. Otherwise, I would have a completely different identity. North Dakotian, or perhaps Canadian -- although I'm not sure that I'm nice enough to qualify for a maple leaf on my passport, eh.

With more than 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases, the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library is ranked among the top ten in the United States for the size of its collection, the significance of its historic (pre-1900) material and its advanced digitization program. Its current exhibition, "America Votes: Mapping the Political Landscape" examines how the map of America’s political landscape has changed over the past 200 years. It's as fascinating as it is timely.

If you're a cartophile, you'll be pleased to know that the website for the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center includes more than 3,700 digitized maps. Do you recognize this place?

700 Boylston Street, Copley Square, 
Boston, MA 02116

One final note about North Dakota - a large portion of it was acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

"Admit Dakota to this Sisterhood of States!" I like Harrison's ideas.


  1. I can't believe parts of North Dakota were bought from France in the Louisiana purchase! It's crazy the amount of history (US history) I've learned just by living in France.

    1. It seems that France didn't want North Dakota either! But seriously, I also found that bit of information fascinating. The Louisiana Purchase included lots of states that I wouldn't have expected.

      I know exactly what you mean about learning about American history by living in France - it's not something that I've experienced to the same extent in any of the other countries where I've lived.

  2. Well at least they were running on considered platforms rather than all the "hogwash" of the elections these days. Candidates rarely stand for anything for very long. That being said, wow, those maps are interesting--and the language on the California location--whoa! That would certainly get someone in trouble now. And Utah--whoa again, them are fighting words. History is so interesting.

    1. I love old maps and found these to be fascinating. It makes me wonder which of the issues that are so contentious in the 2012 election will seem ridiculous to people 124 years from now. I'm still trying to figure out what "Public domain for actual thrifty settlers" (New Mexico and Arizona) means. How do you suppose they defined "thrifty"?

      Some of the other maps in the exhibition were about Prohibition and a couple mentioned Francis Willard. I first learned about her while visiting Chicago.

    2. Okay, make me go google Francis Willard.

      I wonder if 'thrifty' is code for hardworking trailblazers who will get no help from anyone.

    3. Either that or poor suckers who don't know that corn doesn't grow in the desert!

  3. Interesting you are musing on being American in a week when I am reflecting on being British. And the differences in reaction to ex pats. Here we would winder if it was better!

    I must confess I don't know a lot about the geography of states of the US or the history for that matter . and had no idea they had " bought" some states from France. Yes history is so fascinating

    Denise from Bolton

    1. Were your musings on being British provoked by the Queen's Jubilee? It was quite a celebration!

      In addition to buying land from France, we also bought some from England and Spain. And we bought Alaska from Russia in 1867.

      I know that I keep saying it, but I really think that you're going to enjoy your visit to Boston because it shares lots of history with England and France.

    2. And if you have the time, please visit the Boston Public Library. It's one of my favorite spots. They also offer free daily tours.


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