Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation

208p. bibliog. diag. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Candlewick. Mar. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763656126. LC 2013946612.
Gr 9 Up—With her book title reflecting both theme and structure, Walker begins with the English religious boundaries that drove the Catholic Calvert family and Quaker William Penn to seek religious freedom in their respective New World colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Conflicting royal land grants and imprecise surveys led to a disputed boundary between the colonies, eventually resolved by an accurate land survey conducted by British scientists Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Much of the book describes their work, one of the most technologically challenging surveys done to that point. The author concludes with a discussion of how their survey line became a physical and symbolic boundary that marked the divisions in pre- and post-Civil War America, concluding that it remains a representational historic link to contemporary physical and cultural boundaries. Walker's account, supplemented with numerous illustrations and maps, of the conflicts along the disputed boundary and Mason and Dixon's innovative methods of scientific surveying is comprehensive and objective but is occasionally dry, and some of the complex scientific and technical concepts will be too difficult for middle school readers. Her emphasis on the survey provides a perspective missing in titles such as John C. Davenport's The Mason-Dixon Line (Chelsea House, 2004), which focuses on the line's political and military role in the antebellum slavery debate and Civil War and the postwar cultural division between North and South. While the topic won't draw a large audience, its importance in American history makes this book a strong report choice about the boundaries that shaped our nation or science in early America.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO
The exact location of the boundary between the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania was in dispute until Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were hired in 1763 to solve the problem once and for all. Walker delves deeply into her topic, providing meticulous detail not only about surveying but also about colonial-era sociopolitics. Numerous maps, diagrams, and illustrations are interspersed throughout the narrative. Websites. Bib., ind.
The Mason-Dixon Line dates from colonial times: while the Calverts and Penns both left England to found religiously tolerant colonies (Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively), they feuded about the exact location of the boundary. The dispute festered for decades before the surveying team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon was hired in 1763 to solve the problem once and for all. Using their astronomical and mathematical prowess in tandem with their first-rate surveying skills, the pair was able to accomplish what seemed impossible: establishing and defining a boundary despite extremely difficult terrain, poor weather conditions, and political uncertainty due to the strained relationship between Native Americans and colonial settlers. In characteristic fashion, Walker delves deeply into her topic, providing meticulous detail not only about surveying but also about colonial-era sociopolitics. She ends with a discussion of the cultural relevance of the Mason-Dixon Line to the North and the South, and modern-day interest in the preservation of its history. If the boundary theme is slightly overplayed and the surveying narrative slightly overlong, the immersive story may inspire the next generation of geographers, cartographers, and astronomers. Numerous, albeit unexciting, maps, diagrams, and illustrations are interspersed throughout the narrative, while notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. jonathan hunt

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