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The Macroregions of China and the Red Sox/Yankee Rivalry

I’ve long been suspicious of Connecticut and Vermont. I grew up in New Hampshire, a state firmly ensconced in the bosom of New England. From my safe vantage point these border states seemed perilously close to New York and so of suspect loyalty.

Nowhere was this more clear than the dividing lines of regional baseball rivalries.

In today’s Washington Post, writer Chris Cillizza writes about how the demarcation of Red Sox and Yankee fans not only divides states, but has political implications as well.

Researcher Ben Blatt of Harvard Sports Analysis Collective used social media to determine where in the Nutmeg State support for the New York Yankees fades into Red Sox nation.  You can see the map here, but the short version is that the boundary runs through the town of Glastonbury.

This divide, writes Cillizza, is reflected in Connecticut politics. Western Connecticut congressional districts (Yankee country) are much more likely to vote Republican. Red Sox-loving eastern districts  are solidly democratic.

Maps like these show how administrative boundaries can obscure local political, economic, and cultural realities.  The classic case in my own field is the research of G. William Skinner, the anthropologist and historian who, quite literally, rewrote the map of Late Imperial China.

By looking at local economic systems, Skinner identified nine macro regions of China. To use the New England example, if you lived in western Connecticut you would look toward New York City as place to shop for higher order goods and services. (Think: “Designer Wedding Dress.”) Those who live in the eastern part of the state might do their higher order shopping in Boston.

Some of these macro regions to some extent overlapped with existing administrative boundaries, but others were all over the map.  The city of Kaifeng was the center of a regional system which sprawled across the boundaries of several northern provinces.  People from western Shandong and southern Zhili (today’s Hebei) were more likely to purchase goods, especially higher order goods, which originate in Kaifeng than those which originated in economic centers in their own provinces.

(You can see an interactive version of Skinner’s map and other examples of his research here.)

While it is easy for researchers of both past and present to be seduced into using administrative boundaries which correspond to established jurisdictions and state-defined spaces, Skinner’s research–and Connecticut baseball fans–are good reminders that the geographic parameters for our research are rarely, if ever, so tidy.