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Maps as Propaganda

By Jessica Bell- ICD News Team Coordinator

Usually when looking at a map you do not question the integrity or geographical accuracy. With our technological advancements and greater capacity, the distortion or incorrect representation of maps is not often debated, however as we look into history this is not the case. Maps have often been used as propaganda by governments, rebel groups and independent actors to misrepresent, intimidate or misinform the other side. Nazi groups used maps such as the one below to induce fear and and appropriate counter strike within the community. This map shows the apparent ‘danger’ of Czech bombing on Germany.

Maps in history have been used to show the power of Kings, representing them defeating monsters in the sea or conquering new lands. Last year in April 2010 the British Library showcased its large and impressive collection of maps in an exposition titled ‘Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art’ These maps showed how Kings and empires projected power through these beautify painted maps.

In more recent times maps seem to have more geographical accuracy given our increased technology, however they can be used for, somewhat in a less obvious way, misrepresenting or manipulating situations. For example the Sri Lanka Ministy of Defense created an interactive map detailing the many battles and progression of the civil war.

This map is very reminiscent of a video game, with little soldier and tank icons moving their front forward. While this may be an attempt at transparency, it also reduces a bloody civil war where both sides violated human rights and created high civilian casualties into icons. This map dehumanizes the brutal realities of war, that icons can push the front forward with no representation of the suffering and pain left behind. The civil war that raged for 27 years and killed up to 100,000 in some estimates (ABC citing UN ). In a world of conflict, starvation, border disputes and violence, what does it mean to reduce all of this to an interactive game or painted map?

Recently there has also been a trend of ‘mapping’ various social, economic and political conditions, for example mapping hunger, poverty, disease ect. These maps give a visual representation of certain conditions which are often much more powerful as images then as statistics on a page. Check out this Oxfam representation of hunger around the world (click on link for interactive version)

Is this too propaganda if the cause is for ‘good’? Maps are powerful works of art, visually representing territory, nations, conditions, conflicts and migrations. However we should not take them at face value, maps can be distorted and manipulated even if their geographical representation is correct. Propaganda works both ways, for ‘good’ or ‘evil’ and that categorization often depends on which side of the line you are standing on.


About icdblogsphereteam

We are the Blogsphere Team of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. We are the interactive part of the web resources of ICD. We spread culture and mutual understanding among cultures through blogs.


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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013


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