“They say the shape of Cheshire looks like a minuteman.” I studied the map of Cheshire, posted as an insert to an article about the town’s borders supposedly having more corners than any other town or city in Massachusetts. According to one of my interviewees, he had found out that the number of corners was overcounted. Still, the enduring image of the multi-cornered township seems to have a great deal of symbolic import.
I continued studying the boundaries of Cheshire, just not seeing it. Finally I looked at a copy of the map with the outline of a minuteman, complete with tricorn hat. “Ah,” I thought to myself. “I guess if I kind of squint, and fill in the collar on the coat, and tilt my head . . . .”
Of course, it didn’t really matter whether I could see it or not. The point is that, to many of the people in Cheshire, their town = minuteman profile. When they think about their town border, they think American Revolution. Hell, their town is shaped like the revolution and therefore the “right” side of history.
The point isn’t the accuracy of the representation. The town doesn’t have to look like the actual portrait of a Revolutionary War solider. It just has to have symbolic resonance. Similarly, the layout of my undergraduate alma mater, SUNY Binghamton, doesn’t have to look fully like a brain complete with lobes and medulla oblangata. It just has to be reminiscent of one, to strike an association in the minds of its students.
Thoughts? Did I leave anything out? This is just a broad overview of semiotics and how it has related to some of my research.