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‘A 1916 Propaganda Map Created by the Allies During World War I’

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An image depicts a "1916 propaganda map created by the Allies during World War I."

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On April 6 2021, an Imgur user shared a screenshot of an undated tweet that purportedly depicted a “propaganda map” created by the Allied powers during the first World War:

Although the date was not visible on Imgur, the tweet (originally from the @NinjaEconomics account) was published on the same day as the Imgur post — April 6 2021. Neither post included any information about the specific source, context, or authenticity of the map.

On the map, Canada was labeled “Barbarians.” Most of the United States was labeled “New Prussia,” with California and the Pacific Northwest labeled “Japonica,” and a small southwestern area described as “American reservation.”

A reverse image search indicated that the map (which was less cropped in many versions) had appeared at least twice before on Reddit. One variation was shared to r/MapPorn in October 2018, where its title alluded to a possible source for the unusual map:

North America after Central Powers victory in World War I (cover of Life magazine, 1916) [1812×2184] from MapPorn

Although the Twitter and Imgur posts in 2021 were cropped, the Reddit post above displayed additional information. The publication appeared to be Life magazine, and text in the top right corner read:

PRICE 10 CENTS

Vol. 67, No. 1737.
February 10, 1916 Copyright 1916, Life Publishing Company

In May 2020, the image cropped up again on r/interestingasfuck, once again with a titular source for the map, matching the source in the first Reddit post, a February 1916 issue of Life magazine:

Hypothetical map of North America if Germany wins WW1, Life magazine (February 10, 1916) from interestingasfuck

A search for “Vol. 67, No. 1737. February 10, 1916” led to a Cornell University Library Digital Collection entry, “My Country ,Tis of Thee – New Prussia.” The image was filed under three categories: “World War I,” “Politics & Government,” and “Satirical,” and a source was provided as “Life Magazine, v.67, n.1737, February 10, 1916.”

A section titled “Notes” provided deeper context for the “New Prussia” map:

This map appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on February 10, 1916. It was part of the effort of American internationalists to overcome isolationist sentiment insisting on continued neutrality in the ongoing European War. The U.S. has been renamed New Prussia, and American city names have been replaced with German (or Germanized) versions. Washington is New Berlin, Chicago is Schlauterhaus, and Boston is Kulturplatz. Denverburg and Salzlakenburg are presumably German, but Florida has become Turconia, California is Japonica, and the northwest is dominated by Nagaseattle and New Kobe. New Mexico is an “American Reservation” in Der Grosse Desert.

This cover was reproduced as a handbill by the American Rights Committee, a group of distinguished New Yorkers urging direct U.S. action to oppose German aggression in Europe. See ID #2009.

For further information on the Collector’s Notes and a Feedback/Contact Link, see [links]

One of the links led to a page titled “Persuasive Cartography[,] The PJ Mode Collection,” and a short introduction from Mode regarding the archive of persuasive maps, reading in part:

In the summer of 1980, I wandered into an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Pompidou Center in Paris (“Carte et Figures de la Terre”), and I was fascinated. I began collecting soon after, acquiring each year one or two good, early maps of the world and the Americas. Along the way, I found myself buying the occasional odd map that simply intrigued me even though it wasn’t consistent with my collecting plan. These maps were unusual, frequently ephemeral, outside of the traditional geographical niches – “cartographic curiosities” in the map trade. They were fun, interesting, sometimes puzzling (and often inexpensive).

Every map has a Who, What, Where and When about it. But these maps had another element: Why? Since they were primarily “about” something other than geography, understanding the map required finding the reasoning behind it. Each time I acquired one of these maps, I tried to solve that puzzle. As the internet developed, it became easier to come across these “curiosities” – and easier to research their raison d’etre. In recent years, these maps became my principal collecting interest.

At some point along the way, I realized that there was a common theme in this group of maps: they were intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs, to send or reinforce some message, rather than to communicate objective geographic information….

The @NinjaEconomics account labeled the work a “propaganda map” dating back to World War I, and Mode described his “Persuasive Cartography” collection as unified by maps which were maps “primarily ‘about’ something other than geography,” “intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs, to send or reinforce some message, rather than to communicate objective geographic information.”

The description of “persuasive cartography” did appear to check both boxes — consisting of maps devised with an ulterior motive, shaping public opinion or perception regarding issues of the day; maps can be powerful yet subtle propaganda devices.

The April 2021 tweet labeled it a World War I “propaganda map”; prior iterations claimed it originated in Life magazine. Both are accurate, and Mode included the 1916 map in his collection of maps intended to convey information beyond geographical detail. Describing the map as “created by the Allies” was not necessarily inaccurate, as it appeared to be American in origin, making a case for the United States to enter the war against Germany — which it did, a little more than a year later.

That said, Mode listed the creator of the map as “unknown,” and Cornell attributed it to “American internationalists [intending to] overcome isolationist sentiment insisting on continued neutrality in the ongoing European War,” to which we now refer as World War I.