Friday, November 15, 2013

Can you draw a map of the U.S. from memory?

Can you draw a map of the U.S. from memory?  This article has a bunch of examples (like the one at right), but the backstory is missing.  Some of the comments are quite funny, too.

I once asked a few friends and colleagues (all Americans) to try making a list of all 50 U.S. states.  The results were better than I expected – the average was something like 40 states, and several people got them all.  There was only one non-state listed amongst all the lists: one person (a San Diego resident!) listed Los Angeles as a state.

Another time, I did something quite close to the example.  This was back in the mid-90s, at a time when I was working closely with a group of Estonians.  I discovered that they had all learned a lot about U.S. history, and also about U.S. geography.  So I challenged them to draw a map of the U.S. with political boundaries (states), large cities, and major natural features on it.  I got about ten submissions from a room with 15 or so people in it; the others just gave up.  The submissions had 6 or 7 maps that were actually quite impressive – better, I think, than anything I could have done.  I noticed a pattern, too: they knew where the major natural features were (Great Lakes, Grand Canyon, Zion, Rainier, etc.) better than they knew the cities, and the cities better than they knew the states.  But at least three of them got all 50 states with recognizable outlines and correct relative placement.  And these were Estonians, educated under the old Soviet Union!  I was, and remain, astonished at the difference in accomplishment between them and the average American of a similar age...

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