A persuasive map is one that is designed to make a point, that is, to alter the viewers beliefs or perhaps even spur them to action.  The archetypal use of persuasive maps is for the purpose of political propaganda, such as the “Gerrymander” map, but they can address a wide range of subjects. In fact, we have handled persuasive maps in diverse fields such as advertising, moral education, social science, anti-nuclear protest, women’s suffrage, tourism, and even oil fraud!

The techniques of the persuasive mapmaker are many and varied.  To give just a handful of examples: Spatial distortion can emphasize the heights of mountains to make them appear more impressive for would-be tourists.  Arresting imagery can create an indelible visual metaphor for an enemy or ally.  Selective coloring can emphasize a threat or, for that matter, minimize it.

But a map need not necessarily distort reality to be persuasive.  Consider this map from the Civil War era, which makes use of careful shading to suggest how the pervasiveness of slavery varied across Virginia’s counties.



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A spectacular promotional bird’s-eye view of Mount Washington and the White Mountains, issued by the Boston & Maine Railroad.

Iconic bird’s eye view of Mount Washington

A spectacular promotional bird’s-eye view of Mount Washington and the White Mountains, issued by the Boston & Maine Railroad. By the early 20th century the Lakes and White Mountain regions of New Hampshire were major tourist destinations, with a well-developed network of hotels and resort towns and villages. With the proliferation of the automobile some […]

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Color printing. [Jacques-Fabien] Gautier [D’Agoty] / Gautier fils (engraver), CARTE ABR[E]GEE du CANADA levee sur les lieux par M.*** resident a Quebec année 1754. Paris: [Gautier], 1755.

18th-century cartographic color printing, by Gautier D’Agoty

A rare and fascinating thematic map of northeastern North America by a French artist, printer, anatomist and crackpot geologist, remarkable also as an early example of color printing. A former pupil of Jacob Christoph Le Blon, and a pioneer in color-printing, Jacques Fabien Gautier D’Agoty (1717-1785) improved on the methods of his teacher by developing […]

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1912 United States of Guggenheimerica

Cartoon map taking aim at the Guggenheim mining empire

An unusual and mildly anti-Semitic cartographic cartoon from 1912 taking aim at the power of the Guggenheim Family and their purported corrupt dealings in Alaska. The cartoon depicts the United States in outline, towered over by eight of its industrial titans. East of the Mississippi are Morgan, Rockefeller and Carnegie, glaring across the river at […]

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Puck cartoon satirizing the Benjamin Harrison Presidency

A splendid cartographic cartoon lampooning the flood of Republican office seekers after the 1888 election of Benjamin Harrison to the Presidency. The image has President-elect Benjamin Harrison emerging from a skylight in the roof of his home and using a telescope to look out over the dozens of aspirants scattered about the country (While Harrison’s […]

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Extremely rare 1902 promotional map of Harris County Texas

A separately-issued, detailed and extremely rare promotional map of Harris County Texas, published at a transitional moment in the region’s history. The map was published in the immediate aftermath of two epochal events in the history of southeast Texas: the catastrophic Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, which […]

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Research by Marvin Resnikoff / Design by Richard Bickhart / Printed by Faculty Press, THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS COMPLEX TRANSPORTATION ROUTES. New York: Radioactive Waste Campaign, 1988.

Thematic map protesting the transport of nuclear weapons and material across the United States

A compelling 1988 persuasive map protesting the variety and volume of dangerous nuclear weapons and material being transported across the United States. The map depicts the United States covered with lines and symbols delineating routes for “truck and rail transportation of nuclear materials among the primary nuclear weapons production facilities, laboratories, and waste sites.” The […]

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10 War Department Newsmaps from 1945, focusing on the pivot to the Pacific Theatre

Ten War Dept. Newsmaps from 1945, focusing on the pivot to the Pacific

Ten striking propaganda Newsmaps published by the U.S. War Department during the Second World War, covering roughly the period between the surrenders of Nazi Germany and Japan. Unusual in being accompanied by their original War Department mailing envelope. This run of Newsmaps is not continuous, but all were issued between May 7 and August 13, […]

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David Horsey, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO RONALD REAGAN. Seattle: Seattle Post Intelligencer, 1982.

1982 David Horsey map of The World According to Ronald Reagan

An entertaining 1982 persuasive map by David Horsey offering a liberal caricature of Ronald Reagan’s Cold Warrior world view. The map uses a pictorial style to depict the United States and Soviet Union wildly out of scale with the rest of the world. Reagan in full gunfighter regalia stands astride a hypertrophied California, while Leonid […]

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World War I propaganda map

A large and dramatic World War I propaganda poster, cleverly demonstrating Germany’s aggressive intentions through the words of her own leaders and intellectuals.  Regions held or allegedly coveted by her are colored an unmistakable blood red. This is one of several such images published by Stanford’s in support of the war effort. References Persuasive Cartography: The […]

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The Prussian octopus

A brilliantly-designed and brutally-effective propaganda map, comparing Germany to a monstrous octopus threatening Europe. Germany is shown in different shadings of red, indicating its numerous annexations of surrounding territory since 1740, the most recent being its 1871 seizure of Alsace-Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War. Sprawled above it is a large octopus in a Prussian Pickelhaube […]

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