Here’s a word to impress your friends at the next cocktail party: vexillology. It’s the official term for the scientific study of flags—their symbolism, significance, and design.
In the United States, June 14th is celebrated as the birthday of the American flag. If legend is to be believed, one day in May 1776, George Washington approached an upholsterer named Betsy Ross and asked her to sew a flag based on a sketch he kept in his pocket. The Continental Congress was only three months from declaring independence, and they sensed the need for a unifying symbol. Within a month, she gave them the first iteration of the Stars and Stripes.
A little over a year later on June 14th, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution: “Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” (Discover the long—and surprising—history of Flag Day.)
But flags aren’t just an American tradition, of course. All over the world, flags inspire a sense of belonging and evolve over time.
To show the diversity and progression of flags around the world, filmmaker Daniel McKee selected over 2,000 flags sourced from Wikipedia and painstakingly arranged them to blend related colors and imagery. The piece features a mix of flags throughout the centuries from the familiar to the obscure, edited and aligned to perfectly match the music of Beethoven. Watching the animation in its entirety offers a dizzying look at the way individuals and institutions have represented themselves.
The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the world and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic's belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. To submit a film for consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.