24 March 2008
Since my earlier post "A Surrealist Map of an Anticolonial World?" generated so much discussion, I thought I would follow up with this detail of a 1934 Soviet world map published by Uchpedgiz (State Textbook Publishers).
No matter how much time I spend reading about the world of the 1920s and 1930s, when I map things out in my brain, it is always a back-formation from the fourth-grade world map that I memorized in 1985. So my first thought when I spotted this map at a market this weekend—the reason that I dropped the twenty rubles on it, in fact—was how different this world looked when compared to the late Cold War-era map imprinted on my brain. The largest discrepancy between that mental map and this map, of course, is the appearance of all those NICs after the wave of post-war decolonization.
But then there’s also the conspicuous uniformity of the Soviet Union. In my mind's eye, this space was never such a large territorially undifferentiated mass. Where are all those autonomous regions and national republics I am accustomed to seeing? Even in all the old Soviet maps that come to mind, these are usually prominently delineated and labeled. Why one big Soviet lump?
And not only are there fewer borders on this map, but the territorial demarcations that are illustrated aren’t those double-bold lines of national sovereignty that I grew up with. Rather one finds France’s cyan flowing down through Africa, emerald dabs of American possessions across the Pacific, and British washed out pink abutting various imperial and independent territories across the globe. The only graphically striking line seems to be the southern border of the Soviet Union. Why that merits emphasis, only some dead Soviet cartographer can say.
That is, unless one of my dear readers has a theory. What do you think? What strikes you about this map, if anything? What do you think it tells us about the cartographer's view of the world? What does it tell you about the differences between 1934's world and our own?
p.s. Madagascar is entirely to the east of Moscow. Color me stupid, but I wouldn’t have thought that.