The Rhetoric of Maps

What can have rhetoric? Is something given rhetoric simply by the act of trying to convey a message? Can a map have rhetoric? I believe maps can be rhetoric devices through the portrayal given to various land masses. Even maps that are perfectly accurate have distortion, and they have a central point. Where this central point falls gives the viewer an idea as to what is the most important part or parts of the world.


On occasion, what is shown as centralized can be made to be viewed as important and what the world revolves around, however this creates a secondary view with maps such as the mercator projection. This map gives a distorted view of the world in that the centralized points appear to be smaller than those around the extremities. This choice of map was popular during the colonial/imperialistic era, and it was utilized to portray Africa, South America, and Asia as vast, uncivilized areas that were open to European conquer. This projection reinforced the ideas of colonial expansion, and it served to strengthen the racism and white supremacy ideals. Since the mercator projection made Africa look so much larger than Europe, the might of Europe lay in the underdog mentality. If Europe is so small, how did it conquer such a larger foe? It must be superior.


Other maps, such as the Mollweide projection have been used in the past in countries such as the United States of America to de-emphasize the size of other continents in comparison to that of America. When placed over America, the map makes the central part, America, look to be larger than it truly is. Meanwhile, the extremities, in this case, Africa, is devalued, and the size is under-represented. This has been used to attempt to focus American interests inward as opposed to looking to other nations to send aid to them.

Depending on the type of map utilized and the location of the center, maps may be used to convey messages through a very specific, cartographical form of rhetoric.

About Andrew Boynton

C'est moi.
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3 Responses to The Rhetoric of Maps

  1. Bridgette says:

    The uniqueness of this artifact as a demonstration of rhetoric makes this an interesting piece. Different projections could be used for different rhetorical effects. You bring up a point that I hadn’t necessarily thought of before (not that I had ever really given thought as to if a map used rhetoric), the notion that maps can promote colonial ideals such as race supremacy. Do you think that that type of map was used in order to convince people to “go forth and conquer?” I would argue that it’s difficult to use the visual and the accompanying logic to all audiences; rather, its utilization could only really effectively be shown to a less-educated audience.

  2. rsc5206 says:

    This was a really abstract form of rhetoric, but I really think you made it work. I never really thought of a map more than a thing I MAY have used to get me somewhere if I didn’t have a GPS. You really effectively pulled out the rhetoric components of the map.

  3. myb5517 says:

    This was a very interesting artifact to present. Your analysis was elegant in that you didn’t ever say oh well this is pathos, this is invention, etc, but rather you just said that this medium can be rhetorical, and these are the ideas the images can convey. I think you did a good job of using examples and explaining the context, and how this influenced the rhetorical situation.

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