The 6th smallest state in the Union, Massachusetts varies from the densely populated east with its low elevation and distinctive Cape Cod arcing widely into the Atlantic, to the more sparsely populated hills in the extreme west of the state. The state's long and important history began with the iconic landing on Plymouth Rock, quickly developing into one of the most important colonies in America, centered around colonial Boston. The culture at this time was largely dominated by the Puritans, whose ethos of hard work, moral standing and education spurred the establishment of America's first school (the Boston Latin School in 1635) and America's first college (Harvard College in 1636). Massachusetts was the literal heart of the American Revolution, with Bostonians initially rallying against British control and the first battles being waged at Lexington and Concord. Boston later developed into one of the world's leading port cities. By the 1820's the state's demographic makeup went through a tremendous change, with a large influx of Italian and Irish immigrants who consequently strengthened the role of Catholicism in the state.
Over 20% of Bay Staters (an official term for those from Massachusetts) claim Irish ancestry, making it the most Irish state in the nation. Italian, English and French are other dominate ancestral groups. Some important ethnic groups are the Portuguese and Brazilian heritages along the south coast, and the Cambodian community in Lowell (the second largest in the U.S.). The Boston area is by far the largest concentrated urban area in the state, and one of the foremost cities for higher education in the world, with Harvard and MIT leading the way. During the school year, it is said that some 25% of Bostonians are students. Other major urban areas include Springfield, the birthplace of basketball, and the second largest city in Massachusetts, Worcester. The Commonwealth is a decidedly liberal state, home to the iconic Kennedy family, with Democrats in control of nearly every significant political office (a notable exception is the governorship). Massachusetts also gave native John Kerry the largest margin of victory in the 2004 Presidential election, winning the state by 25 percentage points. The Bay State has given its 12 electoral votes to the last 4 Democratic Presidential candidates.