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 […]
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.