“In his famous 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel [geographer Jared Diamond hypothesized that] along lines of latitude there will be more cultural homogeneity than along lines of longitude.
“To test that prediction, researchers at Stanford University used language persistence as a proxy for cultural diversity, and analyzed the percentage of historically indigenous languages that remain in use in 147 countries today relative to their shape. For example, the team looked at the difference between Chile, which has a long north–south axis, and Turkey, which has a wider axis running east to west.
“The researchers found that if a country had a greater east–west axis than a north–south one, the less likely it was for its indigenous languages to persist…. The result, say the authors, supports Diamond’s theory….”
— From “How geography shapes cultural diversity” in Nature (June 11, 2012)
I couldn’t help wondering: Might this correlation even extend to the South? That is, is some of the greater cultural diversity of North Carolina as opposed to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia attributable to our east-west orientation?
Political scientist David Laitin, who led the Stanford research team, graciously agreed to speculate:
“In principle, if we had data on persistence by state, we could test this. It might be neater to compare (a) the 13 colonies and California, both with N/S orientations; to (b) the South and the Plains, both with E/W orientations — with persistence of native American languages as the dependent variable.
“I bet you could get data for such a test, though with [values] n=4, I’m not sure we could do too much in the analysis!”
“Anthony Stokes [a Loyalist refugee from Georgia in 1783] spoke for many when he wrote of ‘a swarm of men’ he called ‘Crackers,’ who were overrunning western Virginia and North Carolina. ‘Many of these people are descended from convicts that were transported from Great Britain to Virginia at different times and inherit so much profligacy from their ancestors that they are the most abandoned set of men on earth….’
“David Starr Jordan [author of “The Heredity of Richard Roe, a Discussion of the Principles of Eugenics,” 1911] wrapped himself in the mantle of dispassionate fact as he dissected a mass of degenerate Anglo-Saxons. Pity, for example, the poor whites of the North Carolina mountains consigned by Jordan ‘to the lineage of England’s pauperism transported first to the colonies, afterward driven from the plains to the mountains.’ ”
— From “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter (2010)
Although his advocacy of eugenics hasn’t aged well, Jordan (1851-1931) did compile quite a resume: College president (Indiana and Stanford). Influential ichthyologist (he and his students discovered more than 2,500 species of fish). Early proponent of evolution, pacifism and Unitarianism. And then there’s this from the “Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography”: “In 1909, after he addressed the California Socialist Party, a scheduled lecture at the University of North Carolina was canceled.”