A digital collection from Cornell University shows how subjective maps can be used to manipulate, rather than present the world as it really is.
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.”
The interest has culminated in a collection of more than 800 “persuasive maps,” as they are now called, which can be found in digital form through Cornell University’s library. Mode has sorted them into themes, from imperialism to religion to slavery, many with meticulous notes about their history and meaning. One of the oldest, from a 1506 Italian manuscript, gives an overview of hell, while more recent acquisitions include a facetious 2012 New Yorker cover of the Second Avenue subway line.