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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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[ Red China ] Robert M. Chapin, Jr., RED CHINA. New York: TIME Inc., 1955

Striking TIME map of Red China by Robert M. Chapin

A striking map of Communist China by Robert M. Chapin, enlarged from a double-page spread in the April 18, 1955 issue of TIME. Chapin’s map uses an unusual projection, simulating an astronaut’s-eye view of China as seen from perhaps a few hundred miles over the Pacific. China is largely colored yellow—an implicit slur, perhaps?—with the […]

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E[phraim] Gilman, Draftsman, / P. S. Duval’s Lithy. Philada., [Untitled map of the United States.] Washington, D.C., 1848.

Fascinating map of the United States promoting President Polk’s agenda

A fascinating map of the United States prepared in late 1848 to accompany President James Polk’s final annual message to Congress.  The map was drawn on short notice by Ephraim Gilman, at the time the Principal Draftsman of the General Land Office. Gilman’s map depicts the United States as a trans-continental power, a status achieved […]

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Map of New York City from Henry William Blair's Henry William Blair, THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT: OR, THE CONFLICT BETWEEN MAN AND ALCOHOL. Boston: William E. Smythe Company, 1888.

A nation adrift “in the maelstrom of alcohol”

A jeremiad against the evils of alcohol, with an interesting thematic map demonstrating its prevalence in New York City. Born on a New Hampshire farm and orphaned at 12, Henry William Blair (1834-1920) never attended college but rose to become a lawyer, state representative, and U.S. congressman, then represented his home state in the Senate […]

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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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PRESENT SUFFRAGE STATUS. Richmond, VA: Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, [1914-15?]

Persuasive map issued by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia

An unrecorded handbill issued by the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia during the nationwide campaign for the 19th Amendment. With a simple-but-effective persuasive map of the status of women’s voting rights across the country, making effective use of color to suggest that states denying women the vote are mired in darkness and ignorance. By 1900 […]

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[Title on cover:] GUIDE MAP OF NEW YORK CITY Showing present and proposed transit lines and pictures of properties owned by the New York Real Estate Security Company. These properties are the security for the Company’s 6% Mortgage Bonds. [Title on map:] SOME OF THE PROPERTIES OWNED BY THE NEW YORK REAL ESTATE SECURITY CO. MAIN OFFICE 42 BROADWAY, NEW YORK CITY, U. S. A. [New York, 1912-1913.]

Boom and bust in New York real estate

An unrecorded ca. 1912 persuasive map of New York City touting bonds offered by the New York Real Estate Security Company. Everything about the map is designed to convey the safety of the Company’s offerings, and yet in 1913 it was forced into bankruptcy and its holdings liquidated.   The New York Real Estate Security Company […]

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