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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

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

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

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