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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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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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A fully-realized allegorical atlas

First edition of this extremely rare allegorical atlas, remarkable for its structure, intellectual cohesion and state of preservation. The atlas consists of a suite of ten allegorical maps, here interspersed throughout a six-volume collection of anecdotes, jokes and amusing stories. The first volume includes a General Map of the Moral World, followed in succeeding volumes […]

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[ Nuclear materials ] NUCLEAR THREATS TO THE BAY AREA. Point Reyes Station: Pelican Alliance for Safe Energy, 1981.

Nuclear materials threaten the Bay Area

A rare 1981 persuasive map highlighting the pervasive presence of nuclear materials in civilian and military facilities around the San Francisco Bay Area.  It was published by the Pelican Alliance for Safe Energy, an anti-nuclear group based in Point Reyes and active from the late 1970s into the mid-1980s. “If you live in the Bay […]

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Willard Glazier / Rand McNally & Company, MAP ILLUSTRATIVE OF CAPTAIN WILLARD GLAZIER’S Voyage of Exploration to the Source OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER Drawn from Delineations by his Indian Guide CHE-NO-WA-GE-SIC. Chicago, [1881-84?]

Willard Glazier discovers the true source of the Mississippi… or not

A very rare early 1880s persuasive map by first-rate scoundrel Willard Glazier, depicting his alleged expedition to the “true” source of the Mississippi River at “Lake Glazier”, known then and today as Elk Lake and but one of several small ponds feeding Lake Itasca. This remarkable map depicts the upper reaches of the Mississippi extending […]

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