How tempting is the eagerness to distribute the whole world according to a single code: a universal law would govern all phenomena: two hemispheres, five continents, male and female, animal and plant, plural singular, left and right, four seasons, five senses, five vowels, seven days, twelve months, twenty-nine letters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, it never worked, it will never work.

—George Perec

Behind any utopia —such as cartography is— there’s always a great taxonomic design: a place for everything and everything in its place. Despite their undeniable utility as guides, as carriers of useful information, for their irrevocable two-dimensional quality (representing multidimensional spaces), maps are a grand fiction. Perhaps for this very reason, they carry in their strokes a quality that invites fantasy and even magical thinking. What’s more, maps have the power to transmit information of all kinds, not only geographical, through a graphic language, more or less coded, making them into odd works of art and mirrors of the human imagination, of fantasies, fears, and often of  our relationships with power. The collection of maps of one Paul “P.J.” Mode is the perfect example.

Mode is a retired lawyer who, since the 1980s, has been collecting such maps. Through extensive research, he began acquiring ancient maps of the world, until he’s achieved a collection of some 800 charts. Over the years, his interest would decant towards what he calls “persuasive mapping,” as he named those maps designed and produced to influence others’ opinions and beliefs through the sending of specific messages. 

The P.J. Mode Collection has had, since then, a starting point in the acquisition of maps which served as propaganda. Their plans are more than conventional maps and they force us to review the past by describing certain specific moments in human history through a graphic narrative nearly always political, bellicose, and nationalistic.

Mode’s maps reflect multiple versions and strategies of persuasion: allegorical letters, satires, and pictorial messages which, through their graphic and textual techniques, convey religious, political, commercial, military, social, and cultural messages. To categorize them, Mode relied on two elements or dimensions. He calls them “tools” and “messages,” each having in common the transmission of complex and not merely cartographic messages.

Mode eventually donated the collection to Cornell University, so that it could be digitized as the P.J. Mode Collection, and to make it accessible to anyone, online.

This peculiar collection of maps chronicles world wars, civil wars, the Cold War, and the history of slavery, to name just a few examples. One of them is the precious Leo Belgicus (1648) by Famiano Estrada. The map takes the form of a lion and its aim was to call together the people of the newly formed Independent Dutch Republic after winning the war against Spain. Another striking example is titled If Christ Came to Chicago (1894), which describes the immorality and corruption in the city in the late 19th century. In two colors, the map covers only two blocks of the metropolis, highlighting in red the exact locations of brothels and, in black, those of canteens and bars. Another map in the collection, ranges from satirical to conceptual. The Ocean Chart was published as part of an edition of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark, written in 1874. The map is entirely blank, as it describes only the surface of the sea. Still, it’s an exercise in graphic beauty.

A map (according to our original collective interpretation) should be accurate, without error, should chart a path toward truth. But what happens when the map’s goal is not to be an accurate guide in physical terms, but in ideological terms? Maps have evolved hand in hand with humankind, and not just from technology, but also from history, culture, and thought. In the Mode Collection of maps (and much of ancient cartography) there’s a tension between what the map indicates and the way in which it indicates it, between its beauty and its content; the map has been and is also a work of art and design. It’s a visual vehicle, a transporter of information with a social bearing: a map is also a plane of immense human complexity —but never, by definition, is the map is equal to the territory.

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Images: Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography – Creative Commons

How tempting is the eagerness to distribute the whole world according to a single code: a universal law would govern all phenomena: two hemispheres, five continents, male and female, animal and plant, plural singular, left and right, four seasons, five senses, five vowels, seven days, twelve months, twenty-nine letters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, it never worked, it will never work.

—George Perec

Behind any utopia —such as cartography is— there’s always a great taxonomic design: a place for everything and everything in its place. Despite their undeniable utility as guides, as carriers of useful information, for their irrevocable two-dimensional quality (representing multidimensional spaces), maps are a grand fiction. Perhaps for this very reason, they carry in their strokes a quality that invites fantasy and even magical thinking. What’s more, maps have the power to transmit information of all kinds, not only geographical, through a graphic language, more or less coded, making them into odd works of art and mirrors of the human imagination, of fantasies, fears, and often of  our relationships with power. The collection of maps of one Paul “P.J.” Mode is the perfect example.

Mode is a retired lawyer who, since the 1980s, has been collecting such maps. Through extensive research, he began acquiring ancient maps of the world, until he’s achieved a collection of some 800 charts. Over the years, his interest would decant towards what he calls “persuasive mapping,” as he named those maps designed and produced to influence others’ opinions and beliefs through the sending of specific messages. 

The P.J. Mode Collection has had, since then, a starting point in the acquisition of maps which served as propaganda. Their plans are more than conventional maps and they force us to review the past by describing certain specific moments in human history through a graphic narrative nearly always political, bellicose, and nationalistic.

Mode’s maps reflect multiple versions and strategies of persuasion: allegorical letters, satires, and pictorial messages which, through their graphic and textual techniques, convey religious, political, commercial, military, social, and cultural messages. To categorize them, Mode relied on two elements or dimensions. He calls them “tools” and “messages,” each having in common the transmission of complex and not merely cartographic messages.

Mode eventually donated the collection to Cornell University, so that it could be digitized as the P.J. Mode Collection, and to make it accessible to anyone, online.

This peculiar collection of maps chronicles world wars, civil wars, the Cold War, and the history of slavery, to name just a few examples. One of them is the precious Leo Belgicus (1648) by Famiano Estrada. The map takes the form of a lion and its aim was to call together the people of the newly formed Independent Dutch Republic after winning the war against Spain. Another striking example is titled If Christ Came to Chicago (1894), which describes the immorality and corruption in the city in the late 19th century. In two colors, the map covers only two blocks of the metropolis, highlighting in red the exact locations of brothels and, in black, those of canteens and bars. Another map in the collection, ranges from satirical to conceptual. The Ocean Chart was published as part of an edition of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark, written in 1874. The map is entirely blank, as it describes only the surface of the sea. Still, it’s an exercise in graphic beauty.

A map (according to our original collective interpretation) should be accurate, without error, should chart a path toward truth. But what happens when the map’s goal is not to be an accurate guide in physical terms, but in ideological terms? Maps have evolved hand in hand with humankind, and not just from technology, but also from history, culture, and thought. In the Mode Collection of maps (and much of ancient cartography) there’s a tension between what the map indicates and the way in which it indicates it, between its beauty and its content; the map has been and is also a work of art and design. It’s a visual vehicle, a transporter of information with a social bearing: a map is also a plane of immense human complexity —but never, by definition, is the map is equal to the territory.

cartografia1
cartografia2
cartografia3
cartografia4
cartografia5 
cartografia6
cartografia7
cartografia8
cartografia9
cartografia10

Images: Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography – Creative Commons