These ‘Persuasive Maps’ Want You to Believe

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

A good omen for the new year? It’s a pleasure to see that our post from late last year exploring a wonderful new digital map collection at Cornell Library was recently featured by Mimi Kirk over at the Atlantic‘s City Lab. Here’s a preview, in case you missed it:

When PJ Mode began to purchase old maps in the 1980s, he set out to amass a typical collection of world maps. But along the way, his attention turned to unusual maps that dealers weren’t sure how to categorize—those that attempted to persuade rather than convey geographic information.

“Most collectors looked down their noses at these maps because they didn’t technically consider them maps,” Mode says. “But they were fun and they were inexpensive, and over the years I became more interested in them than the old world maps.”

The interest has culminated in a collection of more than 800 “persuasive maps,” as they are now called, which can be found in digital form through Cornell University’s library. Mode has sorted them into themes, from imperialism to religion to slavery, many with meticulous notes about their history and meaning. One of the oldest, from a 1506 Italian manuscript, gives an overview of hell, while more recent acquisitions include a facetious 2012 New Yorker cover of the Second Avenue subway line.

An overview of hell, as seen in a 1506 Italian manuscript. (Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography)

Marc-William Palen, a University of Exeter history professor and author of The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade, recently came across the collection. “I got lost in it for days,” he says. Palen, who specializes in British and American imperialism, was particularly taken with an 1888 map depicting the trade policy platforms of the year’s presidential candidates, Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland and Republican Benjamin Harrison. While Cleveland and his party supported free trade, the Republicans’ platform was deeply protectionist.

Continue reading “These ‘Persuasive Maps’ Want You to Believe”

Amazing new digital archive of political maps for imperial and global historians

American Bases in the World‘ (1951), French Communist Party. Courtesy of the P.J. Mode Collection, Cornell Library.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

In case you missed it (I was tweeting about it A LOT last week), Cornell Library’s Digital Collections have just made available an amazing archive – the PJ Mode Collection – consisting of around 800 political maps that should be on the radar of anyone working on imperial and global history. They. Are. Awesome.

Here’s a sampling.


The Whole Story in a Nutshell!’ (1888) – Here’s one of my favorites for a lot of reasons. To give it some context, the so-called Great Debate of 1888 (that year’s presidential election) was centered around the future of US trade policy. The GOP was staunchly protectionist and Anglophobic at this time, and they feared the perceived influence of ‘Free Trade England’ on US politics. British free traders (in particular London’s Cobden Club, featured on the bottom left), were the main targets of paranoid Republican protectionist propaganda. Democratic President Grover Cleveland only added to the conspiracy theories when he filled his cabinet and advisors with US members of the Cobden Club. The pro-Harrison map does a vivid job of illustrating the GOP’s economic nationalism in contrast to Democratic free trade. For more on this, my book, The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade, explores the conspiratorial reception of British free-trade ideas in Gilded Age America.

Continue reading “Amazing new digital archive of political maps for imperial and global historians”

Imperial History and Film Culture

three roads to tomorrow (1958)
Screenshot from the BP-sponsored Nigerian documentary ‘Three Roads to Tomorrow’ (1958), available for viewing at the Colonial Film Project.

David Thackeray
University of Exeter

What value do film culture sources have for historians of imperial history and how do we locate them? Readers of this forum (or at least those based in the UK) are likely to be familiar with the AHRC Colonial Film project but many key sources for the study of imperial film remain obscure to those outside film studies circles.

Media History Digital Library is perhaps the most useful resource for considering the culture of world cinema-going in the colonial era. Building on the resources of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a host of other collections, this site offers a range of film magazines from across the world as well as key pieces of government legislation.

Cinema St. Andrews provides access to various digitised resources, including a full run of the Colonial Film Unit’s magazine Colonial Cinema. Continue reading “Imperial History and Film Culture”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Galata Bridge
A bustling Galata Bridge in late-nineteenth-century Istanbul. Image courtesy of the Global Urban History Blog.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From rush hour in Ottoman Istanbul to the opening of new Vichy French archives, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

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Digital Research Tips for Dissertations in Imperial & Global History

Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library.
Image from Journal of a Residence in the Burmhan Empire, and more particularly at the Court of Amarapoorah [Edited by H. C. M. Cox.], p. 328. Courtesy of the British Library on flickr.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

It is that time of year again. The semester begins; students scramble to find digital archives for research papers; supervisors seek to steer them in the right direction. In contrast to a decade ago, online archival options are now overwhelming. To help wade through the sea of digital archives, over the past couple of years we have offered some suggestions for digital research in imperial and global history, included below. Any other new digital archives that those researching topics in imperial and global history might find useful?
Continue reading “Digital Research Tips for Dissertations in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

“The Last Strike” (1912), Nedeljkovich, Brashich, and Kuharich / IWW, Cleveland (courtesy of Labadie Collection, University of Michigan)
“The Last Strike” (1912), Nedeljkovich, Brashich, and Kuharich / IWW, Cleveland (courtesy of Labadie Collection, University of Michigan)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From newly digitized archives of radicalism to how the Confederate flag came to Cuba, Vietnam, and Iraq, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire

Illustrated London News

David Thackeray, Marc Palen and Richard Toye
University of Exeter
 

As 3rd-year students scramble to finish their dissertations and as 2nd-year students begin formulating topics for their own, it’s worth noting the dramatic expansion in the availability of sources for the study of modern British and British imperial history in recent years.

Many of these sources are free to use. However, it is often hard to keep track of what materials are now available. What follows is a short guide (which is by no means comprehensive) but gives an introduction to some of the most important sources and may be of particular use to students planning dissertations, as well as other researchers. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the ‘comments’ section.

  1. Mass Observation was a social investigation organisation set up in the 1930s that produced a range of social surveys about British life until its disbandment in the late 1940s. This website provides online access to a range of data held in the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex and is invaluable for social historians. Dr. Lucy Robinson has also produced the excellent Observing the 80s website, which holds material compiled following the modern revival of Mass Observation, as well as oral history recordings from the British Library.

Continue reading “12 Digital Research Suggestions for Dissertations on the History of Modern Britain & the British Empire”