Mode Persuasive Cartography collection digitized

Map Showing Isle of Pleasure by H.J. Lawrence, 1931. Satire of Prohibition shortly before its repeal. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Persuasive cartography is decidedly more the former than the latter. Its aim is to sell a product or influence opinion using the aesthetic allure and/or the impression of scientific rigor conveyed by maps. The actual science of mapmaking — accurate renditions of land masses, roads, structures, topographical features — isn’t the point, except insofar as it lends the cachet of objectivity to a pitch.

Retired lawyer PJ Mode began collecting maps after seeing an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1980. Over the years he began to narrow his focus to maps of the persuasive persuasion, fascinated by the reasoning behind them. With the advent of the Internet, finding new cartographical gems and researching their background has become increasingly accessible. Today PJ Mode has more than 800 persuasive maps in his collection.

Last month, more than 500 of them were digitized by the Cornell University Library. Now there are 862 of them. They can be browsed by subject or date, you can just load the whole shebang and go through them front to back, or you can limit by date, date range, creator or subject from there. I’m partial to the subject divisions which convey a real sense of how far-reaching this medium was. Almost 200 of the maps are in the Advertising & Promotion category, and they are some of the most aesthetically interesting. The Niagara Belt Line uses one of the most spectacular views in the world to promote its electric trolley line.

The Niagara Belt Line by Hiram Harold Green, 1917. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.

Birds-Eye View of San Francisco by Peruvian Bitters, 1880. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.A good image can sell even the worst product, as any advertiser knows. Patent medicines, most of which were useless at best, active poisons at worst, needed all the colorful artwork they could get: see Peruvian Bitters, for example, which used a literal bird carrying an ad for the product over a bird’s-eye view of San Francisco to flog its bogus cure for malaria, dyspepsia, addiction and unhappiness.

Two Queens Mines by Raymond T May, 1907. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Even the plain ones without fancy graphics are intriguing because the dry presentation is often used to legitimize an extremely questionable proposition, like the Northern Pacific Railroad Gold Bonds or the Two Queens Mines in Australia, which was a straight-up scam.

The greatest number of maps, 349, are in the pictorial subject which covers an extraordinary amount of ground from military to political to moral advocacy. There’s even an edition of a map very similar to one I own in giant foldout poster form: a timeline of world history from a Genealogical Chronological & Geographical Chart by Jacob Skeen, 1887. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Biblically literal creationist perspective. Other subject categories you can browse include Alcohol, Heaven & Hell (schematics of Dante’s Inferno are always popular), Poverty, Prostitution, Crime, Slavery, Suffrage, Railroads, and lots and lots of wars.

All of the digitized maps are available for download in high resolution (the full Niagara view was so huge my server couldn’t even handle it, and my server is used to the strain, believe me), or if you prefer, can be zoomed in extreme closeup on the Cornell site itself. Fair warning: this is a timesink of gloriously massive proportions. The How Japan Could Attack U.S. by Howard Burke for the Los Angeles Examiner, November 7, 1937. A prescient map of how Japan could attack the US starting with Hawaii. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.information on each entry was written by PJ Mode himself based on his research. He makes no claim to flawless understanding, so if you find something you think might be inaccurate, you’re encouraged to click on the “Contact” link at the bottom of the page and let folks know.

Speaking of which, the following video is 50 minutes long, but it’s so worth it. It’s a talk PJ Mode delivered last year to The Grolier Club and the New York Map Society about persuasive cartography. Unlike most lecture videos, the people doing the talking only appear rarely. The vast majority of the presentation is of the maps being projected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irritated by the neglect of the visual aids in recordings of these types of events. Whoever filmed this talk deserves an award. Be sure to watch it full screen so you can see the small details of the map as large as possible.

9 thoughts on “Mode Persuasive Cartography collection digitized

  1. Maps are wonderful. Less elegant but still charming are the out-of-scale maps printed on placemats used in roadside diners showing the local points of interest.

    Barbari al cancello. Yoicks.

  2. We had copy of that Biblical map on the wall of my Sunday School class when I was boy. The church had been built just after 1900. It had been on the wall before my Grandmother started teaching Sunday School there as a young woman in the early 1920’s. It was used as teaching and rote memorization tool.

    I remember seeing those maps at several churches around the region I grew up in. They were still fairly common in the mid 1960s.

  3. You should have bolded, “this is a timesink of gloriously massive proportions”.
    Also, I think I want to at least purchase Isle of Pleasure to frame & hang.

  4. The Biblical map is just bizarre. It’s full of spelling errors (“Christain era,” “Heals an Inform Man”) and plenty of weirdness—what sense does it make to put long-gone ancient kingdoms such as Babylonia on the *same map* as modern Russia—complete with St. Petersburg?

  5. It doesn’t John, but it made for some perplexing questions for our Sunday School teacher when he would go over it with his pointer.

    I’m sure other sharp-eyed kids with a bent for geography and history had the same kind of fun with those maps for generations.

  6. Thank you for the great news and a link to the collection! It was very interesting to see the home country as a giant octopus 🙂

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