A short history of gerrymandering… or at the very least a desire to write one
October 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
Can you find the slippery salamander? The above image was first published in 1812 to satirize the re-districting work of then Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. The word “gerrymander” is a portmanteau of “Gerry” and “Salamander.”
Am currently reading Mario Manieri-Elia on the role that bosses and reformers play in the turn of the century ‘laissez-faire city’ … and am being distracted by numerous facebook postings on the current government shutdown. I was thinking, what might an architectural historian, or at least a historian primarily focused on space and spatial politics have to say about this. Well… Jon Stewart and John Oliver gave me a head start on this one… Oliver presents a Rorschach challenge to Stewart showing him a convoluted hollowed out shape—all wobbly and reticulated and distended in some parts. The shape, even to the casual observer makes very little organic sense. Playing the dumb but being the ever so clever observer, Stewart replies… “Oh I dunno… a witch being electrocuted inside a bat’s vagina?” Indeed. Louisiana’s 6th district has become so painfully contrived as a shape that it offends very basic notions of beauty—yup beauty, those ancient rules of a pleasing wholeness. Racism today is among other things, a drawing exercise—one aided and abetted by increasingly sophisticated GIS tools.
Hannah Arendt, Catherine Bauer Wurstur, Giorgio Agamben… &c. have all waxed philosophical on the shape of the city, or the shape of the state. In the case of Arendt her attempt was to look at when these forms were one (i.e. she looked at the Greek city-state). In almost every case the ideal city is the city drawn inside a perfect circle—encompassing all of its inhabitants (Arendt does point out the exclusion of the slaves within the city from political space, but lets put that complication aside for now).
I’m amazed that gerrymandering hasn’t been more a part of the discussion, especially of late—considering that the strength of this Republican congress (and in some cases, as with my home district of Riverside… some nice surprises—but let’s leave that aside for now) is largely the result of some seriously elaborate, née tortured re-districting. Embedded within this little missive is a deep desire to create some awesome historical infographical map of gerrymandering.
I will write more about this soon… but wanted this here as a place holder while I return to Manieri-Elia and my dissertating.
Links : The Twisted History of Gerrymandering in American Politics in The Atlantic, The League of Dangerous Mapmakers, Fairvote.org, The Journal of Politics also wrote a piece on the connections between rising incumbent election rates and gerrymandering (if you have access to jstor).