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How the States Got Their Shapes: Season One (DVD Review)

26 Nov, 2011 By: John Latchem

$34.95 four-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Brian Unger.

The map of America tells a story as rich as any textbook, if you know where to look. The reason why some states are small, why some are big, and why some borders seem arbitrarily drawn was the focus of a 2010 History Channel special that became a series earlier this year.

This DVD set, consisting of that two-hour special and 10 hour-long episodes, just kind of sneaks up on you with all sorts of fascinating trivia about both geography and U.S. history.

The show goes beyond that first special, exploring how politics and events shaped an evolving country throughout time, and even today the borders aren’t exactly settled.

Take the boundary between Tennessee and Georgia, for example. Though set by Congress at the 35th parallel in 1796, a surveying error established the actual border one mile south. This meant parts of the Tennessee River that would have run through Georgia were wholly contained within Tennessee, a few yards from the border. This didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but took on a greater magnitude recently during a major drought in the Peach State.

Peppered throughout the episodes are various segments about movements that could pave the way for a 51st state, though not many of them seem to have the momentum to come to pass.

One recent example is the state of Jefferson, a breakaway republic formed from the northernmost part of California and a southern chunk of Oregon. The formal proposal of the new state was set for Dec. 8, 1941, but the Japanese put a crimp in those plans by attacking Pearl Harbor the day before. Though World War II ended the secessionist plans, the area is still marked by signs proclaiming it the unofficial “State of Jefferson.”

Also discussed are boundaries that go beyond state borders, such as area codes or congressional districts.

The show is filled with such information, delving not only into the why the states have their borders, but also the different cultures they now represent.

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