Interstate Migration and Cultural Evolution

In the world of academic anthropology the theories, hypotheses, and debates around human migration are a defining characteristic of the field. Entire careers are built on developing and/or supporting migration theories from the Multiregional vs. Out-of-Africa origin of biologically modern humans, to the Bering Strait land bridge vs. Atlantic crossing theories for the peopling of the New World.

While discussing the strengths, weakness, and supporting evidence of various migration hypotheses can be an interesting exercise in and of itself, what is particularly interesting about human migration patterns is thinking about how migration impacts cultural evolution.

A recent article from the NY times, “Where We Came From, State by State,” displays a fascinating series of infographics showing state-by-state migration trends from 1900 to the present for all 50 states. It is interesting to view this information while thinking about why state-to-state migration has changed, from the simple fact that automobiles made it significantly easier to move long distances, to economic factors both pushing and pulling people to or from certain places. It is also particularly interesting to view this data in the light of what it says about the collective culture of a state as a whole, from Nevada which has the largest percentage of residents born outside of Nevada (75%) to Louisiana which has the largest percentage of native born residents (79%).
North Carolina, where we are based here at W5, had the highest percentage of native born residents at the turn of the century (95%) while that number has decreased to 58% of residents born in North Carolina in 2012. So how has the culture of North Carolina changed as a result of this increasing influx of residents from outside of North Carolina?

A recently published book, “Talking Tar Heel,” details the history of language in North Carolina and how distinctive dialects and accents have changed over time. For an interesting overview of the ways language in North Carolina has both changed and stayed the same over the decades (and to hear some really interesting NC dialects) check out this North Carolina Public Radio podcast with one of the authors of the book.

So what does the data displayed in these infographics say about the culture of your state, and how has your state’s culture changed over the years? We would love to hear your perspectives! Leave a comment to share your thoughts!



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