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These ‘Persuasive Maps’ Want You to Believe

A digital collection from Cornell University shows how subjective maps can be used to manipulate, rather than present the world as it really is.
A map characterizes the Republican trade policy platform in the 1888 election.
A map characterizes the Republican trade policy platform in the 1888 election.Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography

When PJ Mode began to purchase old maps in the 1980s, he set out to amass a typical collection of world maps. But along the way, his attention turned to unusual maps that dealers weren’t sure how to categorize—those that attempted to persuade rather than convey geographic information.

“Most collectors looked down their noses at these maps because they didn’t technically consider them maps,” Mode says. “But they were fun and they were inexpensive, and over the years I became more interested in them than the old world maps.”