Most of us know what the symbols and designs on our national flags mean. In the United States, for example, every schoolchild learns that the thirteen alternating red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies, and that the 50 stars stand for the 50 U.S. states.
But did you know that there are experts who study flags for a living? These scholars not only pore over basic flag facts, they also consider the historical significance of changes that are made to flags over time. Why?
Called vexillologists by their peers, they believe flags say a lot about the people who made them. By examining basic patterns, shapes, symbols, colors, and images, they can learn about a country or group and its values. Their work also has a practical purpose. On occasion, experienced vexillologists are asked to help a new country design its flag. Needless to say, this is an amazing honor every expert in the field dreams about.
In addition to national flags, vexillologists also study U.S. state and Canadian province flags, many of which contain little-known historical references. For example, the state flag of California still bears the inscription “California Republic, a reference to the short period of time after the territory declared independence from Mexico, but before it achieved U.S. statehood.