Do you like history?  Do you like geography?  Do you like watching Brian Unger ask people on the street simple geography/history questions?  Then “How the States Got Their Shapes” is the show for you.  It’s in its second season on the History channel.

I like this show because it’s entertaining and informative.  I’ve always been fascinated with U.S. history and maps.  This show combines them both rather well.  Each episode highlights a few different places linked by a common theme (water, gold, war, politics, etc.).

I like the idea of looking deeper at something many of us take for granted every day (the food we eat, the words we use, how we get around, etc.).  This show demonstrates how easily things could have been different; how some states could have been bigger or smaller, how weird and haphazard some of the border drawing decisions were, how some potential states never made it, and still contested borders and names.  Sometime the decisions of where the borders would go took a long time to develop and were very complicated and contested.  Other times people just drew lines willy nilly and they stuck.

It’s weird to think about how some decisions made by a few people with a few pieces of paper (or sometimes even just one guy who decided to draw a line) a long time ago could have such long lasting and significant economic, political, and cultural consequences.  Many people today define part of their identity by what state their from.  I know I do.  States evolve personalities in the minds of some people.  We write histories of states.  We have heated political and sports rivalries based on states.

Next time you get a chance, take out a map of the U.S., or of anywhere for that matter, and think about why the lines are where they are, why the names are what they are, how it could have been different if events went another way, and how weird it all is.  Or you could just watch the show.