One small side benefit of isolating from society in a home other than my own is that I’ve gotten access to a whole new set of bookshelves and, therefore, a whole new set of ideas.
Scanning my sister and brother-in-law’s bookshelves, I recently came across Susan Schulten’s “A History of America in 100 Maps” and soon buried myself in historic images that told the story of our country. I learned that maps played a key role in military strategy (like the ones Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman used to plan his march through Georgia). Maps were used for planning logistics (like deciding where postal roads would be sited). Maps were also used to fundamentally change how America eats (like maps put together by early meat-industry leader Armour).
Among all the interesting maps, one in particular, stuck out to me.
National American Woman Suffrage Association "Votes for Women a Success: The Map Proves It" circa 1914 from the book A History of America in 100 Maps by Susan Schulten.
This map, in one image, tells the story of the 19th Amendment -- guaranteeing every American citizen the right to vote, regardless of their sex. It tells the story of American federalism. It also tells the story of how states are our laboratories of democracy. In one image, it tells the story of how social change on any domestic issue in the United States, from women’s suffrage to human rights, plays out first and foremost in the states.
In the map's accompanying text, Schulten wrote:
[S]uffrage groups continuously adapted, updated and reprinted the map to reflect changing state laws. Through its incremental changes, the map chronicled the rising tide of support for suffrage … This 1914 edition used white to denote states where women had full voting rights and shaded those with limited rights. Recent victories … brought the issue to a tipping point, leaving a minority of states still resisting the change ... The key to the map’s enduring power was its simple and straightforward design, which enabled activists around the country to adapt it to local conditions and purposes.
The activists used this map everywhere -- they posted it on billboards and carried it in marches and parades. At the dawn of the advertising age, they printed it in baseball programs, college yearbooks, and on that era’s schwag -- paper fans, drinking glasses and calendars. The map became ubiquitous and served as a familiar, recognizable and constant reminder of the women’s suffrage movement’s progress.
The suffragette’s map resonates with me personally- I haven’t missed an election since becoming a U.S. citizen eight years ago - but also professionally. Everyday, I work with my team to get states across America to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. And, just like the suffrage movement, that shift can be told in maps.
In 1983, Iowa became the first state to commit to getting a certain slice of its electricity from clean and renewable energy. Eight years later, New Jersey followed suit. In the mid- to late-1990s, the state PIRGs (former home of the Environment America federation of organizations) prioritized enacting renewable energy standards at the state level, and the policy blossomed across the country. Now 29 states have some version of this policy in place.
This map, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures, shows which states have commitments to getting a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources.
The rise of individual clean energy technologies can be mapped too. In Environment America’s recent report Renewables on the Rise, we use maps to show which states are growing solar, wind, efficiency, electric vehicle and energy storage technologies the fastest.
These maps, from Environment America's 2019 report Renewables on the Rise, shows which states are most bullish on key clean energy technologies.
Although I love these maps, none of them is quite as clear and compelling as the one the suffragettes put together to describe the story of their work. So, I was inspired to collaborate with our in-house designer extraordinaire Graham Marena to create a new one to showcase the accomplishments of the past, the present state, and the hope for the future.
Perhaps Schulten will include a renewable energy map like this one in the next edition of her book. After all, moving away from dirty energy toward clean renewable energy is part of the American story too.