• Who We Are and Where We Are

    Maps are a powerful way to convey where people live, how we are distributed across the land, and characteristics about our communities. Demographic maps (maps about people) specifically allow us to ask better and more informed questions about how people are distributed. But demographic information can be displayed in multiple ways, sometimes clarifying, and sometimes confusing the stories the data have to tell. This page is about exploring issues regarding the design, interpretation, and effect of demographic maps.

  • PDX “CrowdArt” courtesy of Maisie Grant, (UK)

  • The Census
    The primary source of information about people and where they live in the US comes from the mandatory decennial census. The first census occurred in 1790, shortly before the second session of Congress ended.
    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the law required that every household be visited and that completed census schedules be posted within each jurisdiction for public inspection. In that year, the six questions asked for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions: “Free White males of 16 years and upward (to access the country’s industrial and military potential), free White males under 16 years, free White females, all other free persons (by sex and color), and slaves.” (census.gov – history).
  • From the beginning of the census, maps were an important tool to show the geographic extent of the population. The map at right displays the density of the population in the US–excluding “Indians not taxed”–as compiled from the 1790 census. This map allows us to see both where non-Native people were and weren’t located in 1790 according to the U.S. government, and this information allows us to ask questions about why this was the case.
    The US Census Bureau’s 1870 Statistical Atlas represents the first time the Oregon’s population is depicted on a national map. The map, below, depicts the “Constitutional Population” of the United States in 1870 and all of the information contained therein is important. The Constitutional Population excluded “Indians not taxed.”



    US Census Bureau, David Rumsey

  • US Census Bureau, David Rumsey

  • US Census Bureau, David Rumsey

Interpreting Maps

Click the button to continue learning about how maps are created, how demographic trends can be interpreted, and how exactly the census works.