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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.

View Boston Rare Maps Catalog 3, Reformers & Visionaries, Scoundrels and Incendiaries: 250 Years of Persuasive Mapping



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COMPAGNIE FRANCO-AMERICAINE DES NAVIRES A VAPEUR DE LA CHESAPEAKE PAR LORIENT-NORFOLK [ :] CHESAPEAK LINE COMPANY. [Paris: Malde et Renou, 1854.]

Prospectus for the Compagnie Franco-Américaine … with three unrecorded maps!

Very rare mid-19th-century French prospectus promoting investment in the Compagnie Franco-Americaine, which proposed to operate transatlantic passenger steamers between L’Orient and Norfolk, Virginia. With three seemingly unrecorded maps charting the journey from Lorient in Brittany to Norfolk, Virginia, and thence via railroad into the interior of the United States. The opening of the American West […]

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[ Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association ] Keep Cool! There will be nothing to worry about after we get Votes for Women Election Day November 2. [Boston, Summer 1915?]

The Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association tells voters to keep cool

An extremely rare hand fan produced in support of the 1915 campaign for woman suffrage in Massachusetts, with an example of the iconic persuasive map first developed by Bertha Knobe. The front of the fan features a punning exhortation to “Keep Cool! There will be nothing to worry about after we get Votes for Women”. […]

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Afro Travel Bureau, Travel Guide of NEGRO HOTELS and GUEST HOUSES [and on verso:] AFRO AMERICAN TRAVEL MAP. Baltimore: Afro-American Newspapers, 1942.

Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses

A remarkable 1942 tourist brochure geared toward the emerging black middle class, at a time when segregation remained widespread throughout the United States. “… the ideal of the open road and the promise of the automobile was severely limited for African Americans in the era of Jim Crow. Though auto travel liberated American blacks from […]

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Drawn by H. Lindenkohl / Cha[rle]s G. Krebs Lith., HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE REBELLION. Washington: U. S. Coast Survey, ca July 20 1863.

Rare Civil War persuasive map making the case for the Anaconda Plan

A scarce and unusual 1863 persuasive map by the U.S. Coast Survey showing the progress of the Union’s so-called ” Anaconda Plan ” for winning the Civil War. As war with the Confederacy loomed in early 1861, Union leadership under General Winfield Scott drew up what came to be known as the Anaconda Plan. This […]

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First World War propaganda map by the Committee on Public Information

A compelling First World War propaganda map designed to shape American public opinion in favor of American involvement. This large broadside is surmounted by a map of Europe, North Africa and the Near East depicting the Central Powers (red) and the Entente (black), with territory held by each side indicating by shading in the corresponding […]

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John C. Mulford, Chief Cartographer / C. C. Faunce, Cartographer / Lithographed and printed by A. Hoen & Co., Baltimore, UNITED STATES TOURING MAP SHOWING 250,000 MILES OF PRINCIPAL TRAVELED HIGHWAYSGOOD ROADS EVERYWHERE …. Washington, D.C.: National Highways Association, Automobile Club of America and Keystone Automobile Club, 1929.

The National Highways Association pitches its “Four-Fold System of Highways”

A densely-exuberant persuasive map published in 1929 by the National Highways Association (NHA), “a membership corporation which exists to favor, foster and further the development of NATIONAL HIGHWAYS and GOOD ROADS EVERYWHERE in the length and breadth of these United States of America”. The NHA advocated above all for an activist role for the Federal […]

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Alan Lenton et al., Activities Planning Map [and on verso:] NUCLEAR BRITAIN. London: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, May 1981.

An activist’s guide to Nuclear Britain

Rare brochure with persuasive maps of England, Scotland and Wales, highlighting the wide dispersal of nuclear weapons and other military facilities across Great Britain. The brochure features a map of England and Wales on the one side and Scotland on the other. Each uses a variety of symbols to indicate the locations of nuclear weapons […]

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Four anti-war maps by the War Resisters League (last of 10 sets!)

Research by Judy Kowalok & Michael Marsh / Design by Rick Bickhart, ARMS ACROSS AMERICA[:] WAGING THIRD WORLD WAR. New York: War Resisters League, August 1989.  Lithographic map printed in colors on coated stock, chart printed in blue on verso, 34”h x 22”w at sheet edge. Very faint discoloration along edges, else excellent. OCLC 41875007 […]

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Dr. N. W. Tracy / [Rev. G. S. Hubbs?] / Shober & Carqueville Litho. Co. Chicago, DR. N. W. TRACY’S ILLUSTRATED LECTURE “THE MISSISSIPPI OF INTEMPERANCE.” [Washington, D.C.,] Feb. 1882.

The Mississippi of Intemperance

An extraordinary 1882 Temperance broadside featuring an allegorical map of the Mississippi River, designed by a scoundrel posing as a saint. The broadside’s central image is a map of the Mississippi of Intemperance, fed by among others Cider Run, Tobacco Creek and the Beer and Whisky Rivers—the intoxicants becoming stronger as one moves downstream. After passing […]

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