Chapin’s map uses an unusual projection, simulating an astronaut’s-eye view of South Asia and the Middle East as seen from perhaps a few hundred miles over the Indian Ocean. The region is tined yellow, with green highlighting the fertile river valleys of the Euphrates, Tigris, Indus and Ganges, while looming over it all are China, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations of Europe, all shaded red (of course!) Chapin’s gifted airbrushing highlights the region’s dramatic topography, with the snow-capped Himalayas impeding any southern advance by China. Otherwise empty space is filled by large photographs of “strategic Kashmir” and “the brick kilns at Kermanshah, southwest of Teheran”.
The map initially appeared as a double-page spread illustrating an article in the TIME for February 5, 1951. Titled “Backround for War”, the piece emphasized the growing threat of the Soviet Union to South Asia and the Middle East, at the very time that the industrialized nations of the West were increasingly dependent on the region’s oil.
“More immediate is the prospect of a Russian thrust from the Caucasus into the land bridge between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf on the east, the Mediterranean and Red Sea in the west. Only one nation in the area, Turkey, is now capable of any real resistance. Russian conquest of Iran and Iraq’s oil supplies would shut off the vital flow of oil to Western Europe.” (p. 21)
Mapmaker Robert MacFarlane Chapin graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1933 with a degree in architecture. Finding little demand for his training during the Depression, he took a job as a retoucher of photos at Newsweek, where he somehow learned to draw maps. In 1937 he was lured away to run the map department at Newsweek rival TIME, where he worked for the next 33 years. He and his team were extremely prolific, particularly during the Second World War, when they produced four, five and six maps per week to keep up with breaking news. After the War Chapin remained at TIME for another quarter century, during which period he produced numerous maps, including many addressing aspects of the Cold War, a titanic “us vs. them” struggle to which his bold style and liberal use of red were well suited. “The Time-Chapin association, extending over almost two decades, has been one of the major pillars of American journalistic cartography. Chapin maps have established a pattern and style for modern newsmagazine cartography.” (Ristow, p. 384)
Chapin’s maps were enormously popular, and they were often enlarged and reprinted in poster format for distribution to schools. The present example was in the artist’s possession until his death and was acquired from one of his descendants.
Background on Chapin from Susan Schulten, “Journalistic Cartography,” History of Cartography, Volume 6: Cartography in the Twentieth Century, esp. pp. 706-717 (but esp. 713); Norberto Angeletti, TIME: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Influential Magazine (excerpted at NewsPuddle.com); and Walter W. Ristow, “Journalistic Cartography,” Surveying and Mapping 17 (1957), pp. 369-90 (but esp. 384-387).