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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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[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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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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VOTES FOR WOMEN A SUCCESS [:] The Map Proves It. New York City: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company, Inc., February, 1914.

Rare women’s suffrage handbill with an iconic persuasive map

A clever handbill arguing for the expansion of voting rights for women in the United States, using a persuasive map to highlight the expansion of suffrage across the states. The handbill features a small map of the United States, with the states shown in simple outline and shaded according to the extent of voting rights enjoyed by […]

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Gordon-Michael Scallion, Gordon-Michael Scallion’s FUTURE MAP OF THE UNITED STATES 1998-2001. Chesterfield, NH: The Matrix Institute, copyrighted 1982, 1991, 1992, 1993, printed Dec. 1993.

Gordon Michael-Scallion’s prophetic “Future Map of the United States”

A fantastic 1993 map of a post-apocalyptic United States by futurist, spiritualist and self-styled prophet Gordon-Michael Scallion (1942-?) The map is a “before and after” image, the base a relief map of the country with state boundaries and major cities shown in white, overprinted in dark blue to delineate the inundation of vast areas of […]

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Earl Purdy / Division of Information Federal Public Works Administration, PWA REBUILDS THE NATION. Washington, D.C.: Public Works Administration, [1935-39?]

Vibrant government poster promoting the New Deal and the Public Works Administration

A delightful Depression-era propaganda map issued by Federal Government to promote the contributions of the Public Works Administration, one of the major programs in FDR’s New Deal. The PWA was established by the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act and was tasked with spending billions on major public construction projects to generate employment and help stabilize […]

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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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