30 “Persuasive” Maps That Attempted To Change History

Published June 8, 2017
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Every map assumes a point of view. Not just in the Mercator vs. equirectangular sense, where, for example, Greenland's girth is famously either greatly exaggerated or diminished, depending on how the globe is stretched and flattened.

There's also the point of view that comes when the inherent authority of a map meets the unavoidable politics of the mapmaker, forging an image that does so much more than just offer directions to the wayward.

Some maps are politicized in subtle ways, such as McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World, an "upside down" map that offers a refreshingly non-Eurocentric view of our globe by highlighting the arbitrary nature of so-called "north-up" maps.

Other maps are baldly — and boldly — political, akin to satirical cartoons made by activist cartographers, using maps to make strong points about a wide variety of controversial topics.

In 2014, lawyer and amateur map historian Paul "P.J." Mode donated more than 700 of these so-called "persuasive" maps to Cornell University, the boldest of which are compiled in the gallery above.

This collection of so-called "persuasive cartography" features maps that seek to draw attention to the size of underestimated nations, the breadth of student strikes, the scope of U.S. salt production, the support for women's suffrage, and much more.

Many were made in wartime and used to illustrate, even to the illiterate, the reach of the enemy or the prowess of the mapmaker's native land.

But this isn't just a collection of "propaganda," a term Mode finds pejorative, implying inaccuracy or corruption.

"I collect both -- there are some pieces that are persuasive because they are completely accurate and that marshal facts in a way that is very powerful,” he told National Geographic. "There’s a great quote from a colonel on World War II: 'Propaganda is what the other side does. What we do is communication.'"

Like cartography? Check out 25 maps that make sense of the world we live in. Still curious? Try a gallery of maps that explain America better than any textbook.

Kellen Perry
Kellen Perry is a veteran writer on topics including television, history, music, art, video games, and food. His work has also appeared on Grunge, Ranker, and Looper.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Perry, Kellen. "30 “Persuasive” Maps That Attempted To Change History." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 8, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/persuasive-maps. Accessed May 23, 2024.