24 March 2008

1934 Soviet World Map Detail

[Click map to enlarge.]

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.


Dmitri Minaev said...

The borders of the Soviet republics are there. They are simply not too conspicuous. The autonomous regions usually appeared only on the maps of USSR. This is why there is no Kazakhstan on this map: the Kazakh autonomous republic became a separate Soviet republic only in 1936.

I was perplexed by the absence of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, but then I recalled that since 1918 till 1934 the capital of Ukraine was in Kharkov.

For me, the most striking difference between this map and those I enjoyed in 1970s is the different coloring. In the late Soviet maps the uniform coloring was observed almost universally. France and Japan were purple (France being slightly more reddish, Japan more bluish), Britain was green, Spain was yellow, Germanies were brown (the western was darker), Poland was light green, etc.

kg said...

It's funny - the same thing that struck Dmitri struck me too! I took a look at the two Soviet-era maps we have around the house, one from 1978, the other from around the same time (I'm guessing) and thinking back to your map, there was one constant - the USSR is always pink! The colors of the other countries changed between 32 and 78, as Dmitri points out, but not of the USSR. And it made wonder why the choice fell on pink... It's not a self-evident color... The US Political World Maps don't have a consistent "USA" color (do they?) and it's sure as hell not pink... Anyway, a question rather than an answer, but there we are.

kg said...

You know what else is missing from this map? Moldavia! Where could it have gone?! Tbilisi is still Tiflis. And the Baltic States are still independent... My most obvious response - but one worth thinking about, I think you, Buster, of all people would agree - was "Jesus, Britain had WAY too much colonial land!"

lizzie b said...

Actually, I think that the thick red border of the Soviet Union is drawn all the way around (not just on the southern frontier) -- check out the carefully delineated water border between the Soviet Union and Finland/islands of Norway. It stretches all the way north and back around through the Bering Strait, just so there's no confusion between what is Soviet and what is sold.

Also -- Tibet is at least one autonomous region noted inside the borders of a Soviet neighbor. What's going on with that?

Dmitri Minaev said...

kg, Moldavia was an autonomous region in Ukraine till 1940 and became a Soviet republic in 1945.

Dmitri Minaev said...

It might be interesting that both USSR and British empire preferred to paint their own territory in pink and the lands of the other of these two countries in green :). To make things even more confusing, the maps of the Russian empire tend to use green for Russia, too.

PS: Iceland still belongs to Denmark! :)

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

I can't help but wonder if some international council of cartographers decided on some protocols, including that the country of production should be pink. But google can't prove my theory, so I have no idea why someone would choose pink.

Dmitri, thanks for all the background info on the shifting administrative and geographical boundaries of the USSR. For some reason, I have a vague memory of world maps from the 1945-1991 era having republics more visually present, but maybe I am imagining that. I can't find any right now to verify my memory.

Lizzie, China, in this map, is quite frankly a mess. Soviet regions, Tibet, shady Manchuria... If only Mikhail Markovich Borodin had been more successful in 1925-1927...

rootlesscosmo said...

Actually, I think that the thick red border of the Soviet Union is drawn all the way around (not just on the southern frontier) -- check out the carefully delineated water border between the Soviet Union and Finland/islands of Norway. It stretches all the way north and back around through the Bering Strait, just so there's no confusion between what is Soviet and what is sold.

Capitalist Encirclement!

Anonymous said...

Sure i read somewhere that pink is a way of hinting at 'red' (for the USSR- obviously, British Empire- red army uniforms, Red Ensign flown on merchant ships), while making words written against it easier to read. Colours based on old army uniforms would also explain why the Russian Empire = green, French Empire = blue, etc.
Is that 'Beijin' marked in China?

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

You know, rootless, I was kinda wondering if that was part of the reason for the thick line of defense, if only graphically, between the Soviet Union and the outside world.

Anonymous, you may win the prize for the most-likely theory that explains the coloring of the map.

Dmitri Minaev said...

Anonymous, yes, it's Beijing, but the name is given as Beiping, the outdated Russian form. The name used now is Peking.

I agree that pink is used instead of red to denote the, uhm, political connotations of that color, but the idea of links between the coloring of the map and the color of the military uniform is totally new to me :). Going to explore it.

Talking about thick red borders, I recall vaguely that I saw a couple of maps of the world published in USA where the US border was just as thick, if not that red. Not sure, though.

And the last (?) peculiarity of this map: the two cities on the territory of Kazakhstan are not Almaty, Karaganda or Shymkent, but two small towns: Kounrad (modern Konyrat) and Ridder. Why? I understand why there is Ulyanovsk and no Kuibyshev or Kazan -- Ulyanovsk where Lenin was born, but Ridder, which officially became a town in 1934? The only common trait of these two towns, IMHO, is that both are located near large deposits of metals (copper in Konyrat and polymetal ore in Ridder). BTW, Ridder was named after Philip Ridder, a Brit who discovered this minefield.

Here are some other maps (all dated by 1940):

Map of the USSR

Map of Kazakhstan

China, Mongolia and adjacent parts of the USSR