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What was the first straight line border?

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#1
mikedax

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I have a question that I am hoping someone might have an answer to.

I am a graduate student studying art at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore Maryland. I have become interested in studying maps and navigation, as well as borders and the social implications. I have researched the Mason Dixon line and have read that it was a bit of a scientific marvel for it's time. I have also read that borders as straight lines based on latitude/longitude are mostly a colonial phenomenon that later was adopted by Australia and Africa because the vast open spaces were assumed to be unoccupied (except by the native peoples, but that is another project).

Was the Mason Dixon line the first major straight line border? I don't think it was, but I can't seem to figure out what was, and when it became a common practice.

Thank you for any help you might have,
Mike

#2
P Riggs

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You might pose this question the the maphist list group.
Philip Riggs
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#3
Hans van der Maarel

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It depends on how *long* you want the straight segment to be. Even a squiggly border is made up of individual straight segments...
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#4
M.Denil

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It depends on how *long* you want the straight segment to be. Even a squiggly border is made up of individual straight segments...


Not necessarily; both radial and spiral curves are well known in surveying. While it is true that the curves are usually calculated as a series of (straight line) chords, it is the curve that is the defined line while the chords are just construction lines. Railroad lines, for instance MUST be curved; short straights won't work, and anyone who has ever lofted a boat knows that the fair curve is more important than the figures in the table of offsets (withing reason, of course).

Part of Mason and Dixon's survey was the northern boundary of Delaware. That is a circular curve defined a radius around a point (In Dover, Del.?). The town boundary in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia is also circular, much to the dismay of the hundreds of students who have passed through the survey school there (and who have resurveyed it over and over again).

In digital data, curves are often expressed as collections of short straight lines; but this is simply a limitation of the data format. The trick then is to get the short segments below the threshold of perception.

Straight lines were measured for the beginnings of modern basic surveying in the 18th century, and had been applied in cadastral surveying since ancient Egypt (where they had to reestablish property bounds after each flood. However, simply running a really long line only became technically possible about the time Europeans began to measure and divide up the rest of the world. Thus, long straight lines only came to describe territories for which no metes and bounds descriptions were possible, because no one knew what was out there. Where geographic features were mixed up in the description with graticular lines, you tended to get anomolies; like the Lake of the Woods part of the US Canada Border.

Have you seen the "Subject or Citizen" exhibit at the National Archives in DC? There are some fascinating maps (some original) concerning the metes and bounds definition of the eastern end of the Canada - US border.

Early straight line definitions, like the Papal Bull of May, 1493, or the Treaty of Tordesillas in June 1494, remained largely theoretical (and easy to ignore), since they were, practically speaking, impossible to calculate.

#5
Dennis McClendon

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I believe several of the original colonial grants in the Americas used meridians. Many extended westward without limit. This meant that theoretically, at least, Chicago was once part of Connecticut.

It's a different matter, of course, to ask what was the first straight-line boundary to be surveyed/marked/defended.

Are there any straight-line boundaries among European countries?
Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
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#6
Kartograph

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As Hans implied,

most European borders ultimately are derived from manorial borders. Manorial borders themselves were defined along natural (at that time) lines. Most of the straight lines came from agrarian land lots and assarted areas. So all in all, european borders look irregular.

Technically, one of the first straight borders in the OP-sense might have been the division between upper and lower egypt. It´s an interesting case, because Egypt was basically one dimensional, so the perpendicular division would be more of a point than a real straight line.

Hadrian´s Wall and the limes also had rather large "straigt" elements in them.

#7
josie

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Kartograph has a good point regarding Hadrian's wall. It does have a 'straight' element to it and was even seen by many people of the time as a 'straight' line. Infact Bede wrote of the Romans having built a straight line wall (i.e Hadrian's). The romans built a number of straight lines infact, often meticulously building their roads to be 'straight'. Yet you could also argue they had not the tools to maybe make lines as straight as say in the modern day. Also, some of the megalithic monuments are arranged in straight lines, and they may have been ritualistic or borders. However, i am not sure if this is really what you are referring to.

#8
Nick Springer

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Part of Mason and Dixon's survey was the northern boundary of Delaware. That is a circular curve defined a radius around a point (In Dover, Del.?).


As a native Delawarean, I learned in school that it is a 12 mile radius around the court house steeple in New Castle, Delaware.

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#9
M.Denil

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... This meant that theoretically, at least, Chicago was once part of Connecticut. ...


Although most all of the far western extensions of the various state claims were surrendered in 1786, what became the north eastern part of Ohio was until 1800 claimed as the 'Western Reserve' of Connecticut. The name of Case Western Reserve University is a relic of that claim. So although the site of Chicago may have theoretically a part of Connecticut (and theoretically a part of Pennsylvania and Virgina, too), Cleveland actually was a city in Connecticut for awhile.

The Western Reserve was retained, I think, largely because people in Conn. had already begun selling off the land there and didn't want their (shaky) titles challenged.




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