How isolated was Henry David Thoreau’s romantic withdrawal at Walden? In a visual series created by designer and cartographer Meg Studer on The Distopians, she explores (“re-surveys”) these territories. Building off of Walden or Life in the Woods, this series works outward—from woodlots to fireplaces, from adjacent rails to major markets—to re-construct the domestic consumption patterns, international trade, and nascent infrastructural entanglements of Thoreau’s environment.
These initial diagrams combine Thoreau’s recounting of 1846/47 ice harvests at Walden with commercial records and policy documents, mapping the regional industry and its rail-based network of extraction, storage and glocal consumption.
As in many northern areas, primitive refrigeration and rail reorganized urban access to dairy, meat, fish, and lager, preserving foods, making markets, and spurring population densification from Maine to Minnesota.
As the center of U.S. ice-export, Boston merchants also used ice shipments as backhaul, subsidizing northern importation of plantation crops as well as East Indies’ colonial products.
Thoreau’s editorial accounting and its underlying, forgotten networks thus provide an alternate perspective on refrigeration and invite us to explore, with fresh eyes, contemporary forms of climate control and sustainability.
Meg Studer is a designer, researcher and data-visualizer focused on logistics, material streams and process-arts. Ranging from antebellum industrialization to contemporary urbanism, her infographic work excavates the socio-material operations, forms, and footprints behind infrastructure and communication networks. Previously an Associate at Stoss Landscape Urbanism, she now leads Siteations (studio).