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Geopolitical Maps: A Sketch History of a Neglected Trend in Cartography

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Between the two world wars a new strain of cartography emerged in Europe, which disregarded the standards of precision of traditional geodesic, or scientific, cartography. Its scope was strictly political and its approach openly ideological. In Germany, cradle of this new genre, it was called 'geopolitische kartographie' or 'suggestive kartographie'. These terms were later borrowed from the languages of other countries where the allure of German cartography was felt. Elsewhere, in Great Britain and the United States, these maps were generally termed propaganda maps or persuasive maps. Despite a recent rise in studies on global geopolitics during Fascism and Nazism, little attention has been devoted to the cartographic innovations of the time. Studies that have touched on this topic, mostly monographic papers, do not allow for an evaluation of possible links between earlier and later cartographic developments, or between developments occurring in different countries. This approach, which separates the phenomenon from its historical context, gives the impression that geopolitical cartography between the two world wars appeared, like a comet, out of nowhere and then simply vanished; that it was an isolated phenomenon with neither precursors nor successors. Following World War II, geopolitical cartography was largely abandoned, presumably for the same reasons that had discredited geopolitical publications in general during the period in question: (1) the genre was considered a direct product of the propaganda machine of the dictatorial regimes; (2) it lacked scientific basis (on a par with traditional cartography); (3) it had no practical use, other than as a tool of propaganda. This paper intends to refute these three assumptions and to shed some light on this remarkable cartographical phenomenon. What were the origins of this new way of representing space? Who used it and why?
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Political Science, Universita “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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