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Propaganda Maps to Strike Fear, Inform, and Mobilize – A Special Collection in the Geography and Map Division

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Filled with heavy topics of war and occupation, War map: pictorial and propaganda map collection 1900-1950 contains maps and messages that frequently are pointed, unapologetic, and echo the anger and desperation of nations at war. The collection of 180 maps typifies how cartographs were used to influence popular opinion and garner support for military and political efforts in the twentieth century. The collective tone is unabashed and many individual pieces intentionally strike below the belt. It is no stretch to say that this style of cartography is the antithesis of what is known as political correctness.

The Geography and Map Division purchased the collection in 2016 after seeing it at the Miami Map Fair. In 2019, the division cataloged the collection and described it in a finding aid. The maps illustrate events related to World War I, the interwar years, World War II, the formation of the United Nations, and the Cold War. While many of the pieces were created as governmental propaganda, others appeared in commercial publications, including the Star Weekly, Fortune Magazine, the Daily Mail, and the Los Angeles Examiner. Some of the maps were created by famous cartographers, such as Ernest Clegg, Fred W. Rose, Arthur Kampf, Ezra C. Stiles, Richard Edes Harrison, Ernest Dudley Chase, and F.E. Manning.

Propaganda maps often were designed to strike fear into the viewer and portrayed enemies in exaggerated shapes, such as an oversized poisonous spider, a monster-like soldier, or a giant octopus. One such example from the collection is Maurice Neumon’s World War I map La Guerre est l’Industrie Nationale de la Prusse. Published in Paris, the title translates to “Warfare is Prussia’s National Industry.” Prussia was an independent German state with a powerful and feared military prior the formation of Germany in 1871. As a constituent state of Germany, Prussia’s bellicose legacy had a strong influence on the nation. On the map below, an octopus wearing the traditional Prussian spiked helmet with outstretched tentacles represents Germany and its steady expansion over neighboring lands. On the right, three German soldiers are shown, each exponentially increasing in size over the span of two centuries. By the start of the war, the German army numbered more than 3.8 million men. Despite increasing to more than 4 million men, the German army in World War I failed to defeat the Allies on the Western Front.

Folder 44 –La Guerre est l’Industrie Nationale de la Prusse, 1917. 76 x 60 cm. Maurice Neumon. P.J. Gallais et Cle, Paris.

In some cases, facts and figures were used to grab the viewer’s attention. Take the map “We Fight a Global War” from the Naval War Map series published by the U.S. Navy in 1944. The mapmakers center on the continental United States upon which images of armaments and munitions are illustrated. Red arrows emanate from both coasts that show where materials were shipped to aid Allied countries in their fight against Axis aggression. Throughout the map, U.S. Navy ships and planes are shown conducting operations against enemy forces to keep supplies flowing – a point discussed in the text on the bottom portion of the map. An inset in the lower right shows “Lend-Lease Exports” sent to Allied countries from March 1941 to March 1944. The United Kingdom received the lion’s share, 42.5 percent, and “Russia,” then officially known as the Soviet Union, received 27.6 percent. Other compelling facts and figures include American supply lines that extend more than 56,000 miles, which the mapmakers remind the viewer is twice the circumference of the globe, and that more than 5.2 million Americans were on duty overseas or afloat by the end of 1944.

Folder 133 – Nav. War Map No. 6 – “We Fight a Global War,” 1944. 145 x 97 cm. U.S. Bureau of Naval Personnel. Washington, DC.

Mobilization is a common theme among the maps, such as John Falter’s That’s the Spot to Hit!Give Us the Stuff and We’ll Hit it! Printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1944 on behalf of U.S. Navy, it appealed to American workers responsible for armaments and munitions. The artist, Falter, served in the navy as a lieutenant. He placed Japan in the bull’s-eye of a target and positioned Chester Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of U.S. forces Pacific Ocean Areas, pointing at Tokyo. The message is loud and clear: let’s work together to beat the Japanese Empire. Indeed, American workers rose to the occasion. They supplied the armed forces with an abundance of munitions to target Japanese military, industrial, and commercial centers until Japan capitulated in August 1945, after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki. Though a great victory was achieved, much more was accomplished. By war’s end, American workers had built the world’s most powerful navy, which helped to elevate the United States as one of the world’s two superpowers, with the other being the Soviet Union.

Folder 138 – That’s the Spot to Hit, 1944. 71 x 102 cm. John Falter. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

To explore these themes and others, one may view the collection in the Geography and Map Division Reading Room from Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 5 pm.


Comments (3)

  1. These items would make excellent teacher resources. I was able to find the La Guerre item in the digitized Prints and Photographs collections. Any chance the collection will be digitized for online access?

  2. Interesting post, thanks Ryan.

    • Julie, thank you for the note! Ryan

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