Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mapping the History of Death

This wikipedia map records the shifting geography of places where population and death have caused the overflooding of traditional cemeteries.

Nineteenth-century cities like London and Paris faced the problem of overcrowding by corpses. In response, they resorted to the building of mass cemeteries and crematoria on the edges of town.

Which answer a government takes, when faced by large numbers of the dead, tells you a great deal about the government. If you're a state and there are too many dead bodies, building crematoria is one answer; outlawing death is another. Different kinds of politics lie behind each: crematoria require architects, surveyors, and a certain kind of flexible theology; outlawing death requires a strong, centralized ruler, but no bureaucracy is needed at all.

A very clever map would animate rises of population (in one color, say a bubbling orange) followed by problems with cemetery overflow (in oozing purple), followed by marks delineating several possible outcomes: blue dots marking the appointment of state-appointed cemeteries; gray dots marking crematoria, and red dots marking sites where death is illegal.


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