An Archive of 800+ Imaginative Propaganda Maps Designed to Shape Opinions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Persuasive Maps Collection

We tend to take a very special interest in archives and maps on this site—and especially in archives of maps. Yet it is rare, if not unheard of, to discover a map archive in which every single entry repays attention. The PJ Mode Persuasive Cartography Collection at Cornell University Library is such an archive. Each map in the collection, from the most simplified to the most elaborate, tells not only one story, but several, overlapping ones about its creators, their intended audience, their antagonists, the conscious and unconscious processes at work in their political psyches, the geo-political view from where they stood.

Maps drawn as propaganda must be broad and bold, casting aside precision for the pressing matter at hand. Even when finely detailed or laden with statistics, such maps press their meaning upon us with unsubtle force.




One especially resonant example of persuasive cartography, for example, at the top shows us an early version of a widely-used motif—the “Cartographic Land Octopus,” or CLO, as Frank Jacobs dubs it at Big Think. The CLO has never gone out of style since its likely origin in J.J. van Brederode’s "Humorous War Map" of 1870, which depicts Russia as a monstrous mollusk. Later, Caricaturist Fred W. Rose printed a reprise, the “Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877.”

A full twenty-seven years later, a Japanese student used the very same design for his satirical map of Russia-as-Octopus, the occasion this time the Russo-Japanese War. Titled “A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia,” the Japanese map cites Rose, or “a certain prominent Englishman,” as its inspiration. Its text reads, in part:

The black octopus is so avaricious, that he stretches out his eight arms in all directions, and seizes up every thing that comes within his reach. But as it sometimes happens he gets wounded seriously even by a small fish, owing to his too much covetousness.

No doubt Russian persuasive cartographers had a different view of who was or wasn’t an octopus. Many years after his octopus map, Fred Rose dropped sea creatures for fishing in another of his serio-comic maps, "Angling in Troubled Waters," above, this one from 1899, and showing Russia as a massive incarnation of the tsar, his boots posed to walk all over Europe. After the revolution, the Russian octopus returned, bearing different names but no less menacing a beast.

Many maps in the collection show contradictory views of Russia, or Great Britain, or whatever world power at the time threatened to overrun everyone else. It’s interesting to see the continuity of such depictions over decades, and centuries (Jacobs shows examples of Russian octopi from 1938 and 2008). The map above from 1938 reflects “Nazi expansionist goals,” notes Cornell’s digital collections, by showing the supposed "German" populations scattered all over Europe and the need, as Hitler argued in the quoted speech, to protect and liberate “national comrades” by means of annexation, bombing, and invasion.

Where the blood red of the German map represents the “blood” of the volk, in the map above, from 1917, it stands in for the blood of everyone else if the “leaders of German thought” get what they want. Where the Reich map took aim at Europe, the quoted “former generals,” notes Cornell, “and well-known Pangermanists” in the WWI-era map above wanted to colonize most of the world, a particular affront to the British, who were well on their way to doing so, and to a lesser degree, the French, who wanted to. These two world powers had been at it far longer, however, and not without fierce opposition at home as well as in the colonies.

The famous eighteenth century British caricaturist James Gillray’s most famous print, from 1805, shows William Pitt and Napoleon seated at table, carving up the world between them to consume it.

A steaming ‘plum-pudding’ globe, both intent on carving themselves a substantial portion…. Pitt appears calm, meticulous and confident, spearing the pudding with a trident indicative of British naval supremacy. He lays claim to the oceans and the West Indies. In contrast Napoleon Bonaparte reaches from this chair with covetous, twitching eyes fixed on the prize of Europe and cuts away France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the Mediterranean.

Gillray’s cartoon hardly counts as a “map” but it deserves inclusion in this fine collection. Other notable maps featured include the 1904 “Distribution of Crime & Drunkenness in England and Wales,”a study in the persuasive use of correlation; the 1856 “Reynold’s Political Map of the United States,” illustrating the “stakes involved in the potential spread of slavery to the Western States” in support of the Republican Presidential candidate John Fremont; and the French Communist Party’s 1951 “Who is the Aggressor?” which shows American military bases around the world, their guns—or big black arrows—pointed at China and the U.S.S.R.

There are hundreds more persuasive maps, illustrating views theological, political, social, mechanical, and otherwise, dating from the 15th century to the 2000s. You can browse the whole collection or by date, creator, subject, repository, and format. All of the maps are annotated with catalog information and collector’s notes explaining their context. And all of them, from the frivolous to the world-historical, tell us far more than they intended with their peculiar ways of spatializing prejudices, fears, desires, beliefs, obsessions, and overt biases.

“Every map has a Who, What, Where and When about it,” as collector PJ Mode writes on the Cornell site. “But these maps had another element: Why? Since they were primarily ‘about’ something other than geography, understanding the map required finding the reasoning behind it.” The most recent entry in the archive, Christopher Neiman’s 2011 “World Map of Useless Stereotypes” from The New York Times Magazine turns the persuasive map in on itself, using its satirical devices to poke fun at propaganda’s reductive effects.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Map of the U.S. Created Out of 1,000 Song Titles That Reference Cities, States, Landmarks & More

According to Leonard Cohen, songwriting is a lonely business, but there’s nothing for it, he sings in “Tower of Song,” when you’re “born with the gift of a golden voice" and when “twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond” tie you to a table and make you write. Just where is Cohen’s tower? Maybe Montreal, his hometown, or his adopted city of L.A.? He doesn’t tell us, though we do know Hank Williams lives 100 floors above, so there's a good chance that it's not a place on earth.

Cohen the poet had a gift for making metaphysical trips seem perfectly natural, but most songwriters, lonely or otherwise, rely on more realist conventions of narrative storytelling, including specific settings, whether mentioned in passing or forming a central theme.




Songs like "Little Old Lady from Pasadena," “Rockaway Beach,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” or “Straight Outta Compton” helped put their respective locales on the map.

Design house Dorothy has taken that phrase literally, creating a map of the U.S. “made up entirely from the titles of over 1,000 songs” that “reference states, cities, rivers, mountains and landmarks.” In the playlist below, you can listen to the country’s geography, as sung by Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, R.E.M., Pink Floyd, George Strait, Kings of Leon, Jay Z,  Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, and hundreds more artists who have little in common other than their use of a U.S. city, state, landmark, natural formation, etc. as an anchor for their lyrics.

Like Homer’s Iliad, which maps the ancient Greek world with its copious references to ports, cities, mountains, and so on, the pop canon could be used by some future civilization to reconstruct the geography of the U.S. And if so, it might look quite a lot like this. But not only does the map situate well-known songs about well-known places in their proper coordinates, it also locates somewhat obscure locations name-checked  in songs like The Band’s “The Weight,” whose mention of Nazareth refers not to the Biblical town, but rather to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of Martin Guitars. (The city gets another boost, though not on this map, in Mark Knopfler’s “Speedway at Nazareth,” which refers to another local landmark.)

“Some of our favorite song choices are the ones which require you to think a little harder about connections,” Dorothy admits, “such as ‘Space Oddity’ (David Bowie) which signposts Cape Canaveral, ‘After the Gold Rush’ (Neil Young) which references Sutter’s Mill, and ‘Homecoming’ (Kanye West) which is placed near the rapper’s home town of Chicago.”

Perusing the map (zoom into a high-res version here) and playlist will doubtless alert you to other choices with oblique or implied references. In one instance, on the map of Florida, we see Green Day’s “American Idiot,” whose lyrics take on the whole nation, “under the new mania.” Dorothy finds a single address for the song's vitriol, one suspiciously close to the so-called “Winter White House.” Somehow I doubt the band would object to this creative geographical interpretation.

You can purchase your own copy of the map here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Atlas of Literary Maps Created by Great Authors: J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island & More

Plot, setting, character… we learn to think of these as discrete elements in literary writing, comparable to the strategy, board, and pieces of a chess game. But what if this scheme doesn’t quite work? What about when the setting is a character? There are many literary works named and well-known for the unforgettable places they introduce: Walden, Wuthering Heights, Howards End…. There are invented domains that seem more real to readers than reality: Faulkner’s Yoknapatowpha, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex… There are works that describe impossible places so vividly we believe in their existence against all reason: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, China Miéville’s The City and the City, Jorge Luis Borges' "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"….

What sustains our belief in the integrity of fictional places? The fact that they seem to act upon events as much as the people who live in them, for one thing. And, just as often, the fact that so many authors and illustrators draw elaborate maps of literary settings, making their features real to us and embedding them in our minds.




A new book, The Writer’s Map, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, offers lovers of literary maps—whether in non-fiction, realism, or fantasy—the opportunity to pore over maps of Thomas More’s Utopia (said to be the first literary map), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Branwell Brontë’s Verdopolis (above), and so many more.

The book is filled with essays about literary mapping by writers and map-makers, and it touches on the way authors themselves view imaginative mapping. “For some writers making a map is absolutely central to the craft of shaping and telling their tale,” writes Lewis-Jones. For others, making maps is also a way to avoid the painful task of writing, which Philip Pullman calls “a matter of sullen toil.” Drawing, on the other hand, he says, “is pure joy. Drawing a map to go with a story is messing around, with the added fun of coloring it in.” David Mitchell agrees: “As long as I was busy dreaming of topography,” he says of his maps, “I didn’t have to get my hands dirty with the mechanics of plot and character.”

It may surprise you to hear that writers hate to write, but writers are people, after all, and most people find writing tedious and difficult in some part. What all of the writers featured in this collection share is that they love indulging their imaginations, making real their lucid dreams, whether through the diversion of drawing maps or the grind of grammar and syntax. Many of these maps, like Thoreau’s drawing of Walden Pond or Johann David Wyss’s illustration of the desert island in The Swiss Family Robinson, accompanied their books into publication. Many more remained secreted in authors’ notebooks.

There are many such “private treasures” in The Writer’s Map, notes Atlas Obscura: “J.R.R. Tolkien’s own sketch of Mordor, on graph paper; C.S. Lewis’s sketches; unpublished maps from the notebooks of David Mitchell… Jack Kerouac’s own route in On the Road….” Do we read a literary map differently when it wasn’t meant for us? Can maps be sly acts of misdirection as well as whimsical visual aids? Should we treat them as paratextual and unnecessary, or are they central, when an author chooses to include them, to our understanding of a story? Such questions, and many, many more, are taken up in The Writer’s Map, a long overdue survey of this longstanding literary tradition.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Radical Map Puts the Oceans–Not Land–at the Center of Planet Earth (1942)

We all learn the names, locations, and even characteristics of the oceans in school. But unless we go into oceanography or some other body-of-water-centric profession, few of us keep them at our command. Maybe the loss of that knowledge has to do with our land-centricity as a species: not only do we live on the stuff, we also put it before water intellectually. You can see how by taking a glance at the design of most any world map, whose framing, details, and color scheme all work together to highlight the land, not the water. Only the map above, the "Spilhaus Projection," dares to reverse that scheme, putting Earth's water at the center and turning it from negative space into positive.

Named for its creator, the South African-born oceanographer, geophysicist, inventor, urban designer (having come up with Minneapolis Skyway System), and comic artist Athelstan Spilhaus, the Spilhaus Projection "reverses the land-based bias of traditional cartographic projections," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs, placing "the poles of the map in South America and China, ripping up continents to show the high seas as one interrupted whole." The resulting "earth-sea" is "perforated by Antarctica and Australia, and fringed by the other land masses." If you look closely at the top and lower right of the map, you'll find triangular symbols indicating the Bering Strait, perhaps the best landmark to orient your perception of this radically new view of planet Earth.




But the view provided by the Spilhaus Projection (rendered here by graphic designer Clara Dealberto for Libération) isn't as new as it may look. Spilhaus designed it back in 1942, as a side project while working on the invention for which he is perhaps most remembered: the bathythermograph, a device for measuring ocean depths and temperatures from moving vessels like boats and submarines. But Jacobs credits it with a new relevance today: "Our oceans produce between 50% and 85% of the world's oxygen and are a major source of food for humanity. But they are in mortal danger, from overfishing, acidification, plastic pollution and climate change. Maritime 'dead zones' – with zero oxygen and zero marine life – have quadrupled since the 1950s."

In other words, our world and the oceans that cover more than 70 percent of its surface already look quite a bit different than they did when Spilhaus designed this re-prioritized way of visualizing them. Spilhaus lived until 1998, long enough to see the emergence of current ideas about climate change, but one does wonder whether we in the 21st century have developed the kind of ocean-consciousness for which he must have hoped. Perhaps our times call for even more drastic mapping action, not just showing the centrality of the oceans but, as we've previously featured here on Open Culture, showing what might happen if they change much more.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The History of Cartography, “the Most Ambitious Overview of Map Making Ever Undertaken,” Is Free Online

“Cartography was not born full-fledged as a science or even an art,” wrote map historian Lloyd Brown in 1949. “It evolved slowly and painfully from obscure origins.” Many ancient maps made no attempt to reproduce actual geography but served as abstract visual representations of political or theological concepts. Written geography has an ancient pedigree, usually traced back to the Greeks and Phoenicians and the Roman historian Strabo. But the making of visual approximations of the world seemed of little interest until later in world history. As “mediators between an inner mental world and an outer physical world”—in the words of historian J.B. Harley—the maps of the ancients tended to favor the former. This is, at least, a very general outline of the early history of maps.

Harley’s definition occurs in the first chapter of Volume One of The History of Cartography, a massive six-volume, multi-author work tracing map making from prehistoric times up to the twentieth century; “the most ambitious overview of map making ever undertaken,” Edward Rothstein writes at The New York Times.




The University of Chicago project, begun in the mid-80s, combines “essays based on original research by authoritative scholars with extensive illustrations of rare and unusual maps.” Unlike histories like Brown’s, however, this one aims to move beyond “a deeply entrenched Eurocentricity.” The project includes non-Western and pre-medieval maps, presenting itself as “the first serious global attempt” to describe the cartography of African, American, Arctic, Asian, Australian, and Pacific societies as well as European. In so doing, it illuminates many of those "obscure origins."

You might expect such an ambitious offering to come with an equally ambitious pricetag, and you’d be right. But rather than pay over $200 dollars for each individual book in the series, you can read and download Volumes One through Three and Volume Six as free PDFs at the University of Chicago Press’s site. In these extraordinary scholarly works, you’ll find maps reproduced nowhere else—like the Star Fresco from Jordan just above—with deeply learned commentary explaining how they correspond to very different ways of seeing the world.

At the links below, see images of maps from all over the globe and throughout recorded human history, and begin to see the history of cartography in very different ways yourself.

Volume 1

Gallery of Color Illustrations

Volume 2: Part 1

Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 1–24)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 25–40)

Volume 2: Part 2

Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 1–16)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 17–40)

Volume 2: Part 3

Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 1–8)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 9 –24)

Volume 3: Part 1

Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 1–24)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 25–40)

Volume 3: Part 2

Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 41–56)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 57–80)

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Native Lands: An Interactive Map Reveals the Indigenous Lands on Which Modern Nations Were Built

“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in the all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.’”

                     —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

In his post-WWII historical survey, The Story of Maps, Lloyd A. Brown observes that “the very material used in the making of maps, charts and globes contributed to their destruction.” Paper burns, rots, succumbs to water-damage and insects. Maps and globes made from solid silver, brass, copper, and other metals made too-tempting targets for looters and thieves. In this way, maps serve doubly as symbolic indices of what they represent—lands that, in the very act of mapping them, were often despoiled, overrun, and stolen from their inhabitants.

Moreover, in mapping history, it often happened that “if a map were old and obsolete and parchment was scarce, the old ink and rubrication could be scraped off and the skin used over again. This practice, accounting for the loss of many codices as well as valuable maps and charts, at one time became so pernicious” that the Catholic Church issued decrees to forbid it. What better allegory for conquest, the wiping away of civilizations in order to write new names and borders over them?




The old imperial tropes of “blank spaces” on the map and “dark places of the earth” (like “darkest Africa”), used with such effectiveness in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hide the plain truth, in the words of Conrad’s Marlow:

The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to....

Blank spaces represent those areas that had not yet been forcibly brought into the European economy of property, the sine qua non of Enlightenment humanity. “Once discovered by Europeans,” writes historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot—once classified, mapped, and made subject, “the Other finally enters the human world.” For several decades now, postcolonial projects have engaged in the progressive disenchantment of “the idea,” in the recognition of messy relationships between naming, mapping, and power, and the recovery, to the extent possible, of the names, borders, and identities beneath palimpsest histories.

Such projects proliferate outside academia as technology amplifies previously unheard dissenting voices and perspectives and as, to use an old postcolonial phrase, “the empire writes back”—or, in this case, “maps back.” Such is the intent of the online project Native Land, an interactive website that “does the opposite” of centuries of colonial mapping, writes Atlas Obscura, “by stripping out country and state borders in order to highlight the complex patchwork of historic and present-day Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages that stretch across the United States, Canada," the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, and Australia.

Also a mobile app for Apple and Android, the map allows visitors to enter street addresses or ZIP codes in the search bar, “to discover whose traditional territory their home was built on.”

White House officials will discover that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is found on the overlapping traditional territories of the Pamunkey and Piscataway tribes. Tourists will learn that the Statue of Liberty was erected on Lenape land, and aspiring lawyers that Harvard was erected in a place first inhabited by the Wamponoag and Massachusett peoples.

The map was created by Canadian activist and programmer Victor Temprano, founder of the company Mapster, which funds the project. Temprano prefaces the Native Land “About” page with a disclaimer: “This is not an academic or professional survey,” he writes, and is “constantly being refined from user input.” He defines his purpose as “helping people get interested and engaged” by asking questions like “who has the right to define where a particular territory ends, and another begins?”

As neo-colonial projects like oil pipelines once again threaten the survival of Indigenous communities, and indigenous people find themselves and their children caged in prisons for crossing militarized national borders, such questions could not be more relevant. Temprano does not make any claims to definitive historical accuracy and points to other, similar projects that supplement the “blank spaces” in his own online map, such as huge areas of South America being re-mapped on the ground by Amazonian tribes entering field data into smart phones, and Aaron Capella’s Tribal Nations Maps, which offers attractive printed products, perfect for use in classrooms.

Temprano quotes Capella in order to illuminate his work: “This map is in honor of all the Indigenous Nations [of colonial states]. It seeks to encourage people—Native and non-Native—to remember that these were once a vast land of autonomous Native peoples, who called the land by many different names according to their languages and geography. The hope is that it instills pride in the descendants of these People, brings an awareness of Indigenous history and remembers the Nations that fought and continue to fight valiantly to preserve their way of life.”

Visit Native Land here and enter an address in North or South America or Australia to learn about previous or concurrent Native inhabitants, their languages, and the historical treaties signed and broken over the centuries. Clicking on the territory of each Indigenous nation brings up links to other informative sites and allows users to submit corrections to help guide this inclusive project toward greater accuracy.

The site also features a Teacher's Guide, Blog by Temprano, and a page on the importance of Territory Acknowledgement, a way for us to "insert an awareness of indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life," and one of many "transformative acts," as Chelsea Vowel, a Métis woman from the Plains Cree writes, "that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure."

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

All the Roman Roads of Italy, Visualized as a Modern Subway Map

At its peak around the year 117 AD, the mighty Roman Empire owned five million square kilometers of land. It ruled more than 55 million people, between a sixth and a quarter of the population of the entire world. The empire, as classicist and historian Christopher Kelly describes it, "stretched from Hadrian's Wall in drizzle-soaked northern England to the sun-baked banks of the Euphrates in Syria; from the great Rhine-Danube river system, which snaked across the fertile, flat lands of Europe from the Low Countries to the Black Sea, to the rich plains of the North African coast and the luxuriant gash of the Nile Valley in Egypt." All that power, of course, originally emanated from Italy.

The builders of the Roman Empire couldn't have pulled it off without serious infrastructural acumen, including the skill to make concrete that lasts longer than even the modern variety as well as the forcefulness and sheer manpower to lay more than 400,000 kilometers of road.




Not long ago, mapmaker Sasha Trubetskoy took it upon himself to render Rome's imperial road system in the style of a modern subway map; popular demand put him to work on an aesthetically similar map of Britain's Roman roads not long after. Now he has turned his skills back toward the land where the Roman Empire all started: above, you can see his "subway map" of the Roman roads of Italy.

"It was fortunate enough that Italy’s Roman roads are quite well-studied and documented, especially when it comes to their actual ancient names," Trubetskoy writes of this latest project. "This meant that I had to do less artistic interpretation in order to make this look like a sensible, modern chart. That said, there are still some cases where I had to creatively reconstruct certain roads, and I make it clear in the legend which roads those were." As for the color-coded sidelining of Sicily and Sardinia, "this is a map of Italia (Italy) as the Romans saw it, which did not include those islands. On the other hand, it did include parts of what are today Slovenia and Croatia."

You can buy a high-resolution version of Trubetskoy's Viae Italiae et Suae Vicinitatis, or Roman Roads of Italy and Its Surroundings, for $9.00 USD at his site. Printed at poster quality, it could make a suitable gift indeed for any of the cartography enthusiasts, historically minded transit fans, Roman Empire history buffs, or Italian patriots in your life. And in a way, it shows history coming full circle, since much of our sense of how subway maps should look comes from a revolutionary 1972 map of the New York subway system. We've featured it before here on Open Culture, alongside an interview with its designer, a certain Massimo Vignelli. And where do you suppose he hailed from?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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