Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power

Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power

Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power

Mapping the Cold War: Cartography and the Framing of America's International Power


In this fascinating history of Cold War cartography, Timothy Barney considers maps as central to the articulation of ideological tensions between American national interests and international aspirations. Barney argues that the borders, scales, projections, and other conventions of maps prescribed and constrained the means by which foreign policy elites, popular audiences, and social activists navigated conflicts between North and South, East and West. Maps also influenced how identities were formed in a world both shrunk by advancing technologies and marked by expanding and shifting geopolitical alliances and fissures. Pointing to the necessity of how politics and values were "spatialized" in recent U.S. history, Barney argues that Cold War-era maps themselves had rhetorical lives that began with their conception and production and played out in their circulation within foreign policy circles and popular media. Reflecting on the ramifications of spatial power during the period, Mapping the Cold War ultimately demonstrates that even in the twenty-first century, American visions of the world--and the maps that account for them--are inescapably rooted in the anxieties of that earlier era.


In the leading machine, the Head of the Air Force was sitting beside
the pilot. He had a world atlas on his knees and he kept staring first at
the atlas, then at the ground below, trying to figure out where they were
going. Frantically he turned the pages of the atlas…. in the seat behind
him sat the Head of the Army who was even more terrified.

“You don’t mean to tell me we’ve gone right out of the atlas?” he
cried, leaning forward to look.

“That’s exactly what I am telling you!” cried the Air Force man. “Look
for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We
went off that over an hour ago!” He turned the page. As in all atlases,
there were two completely blank pages at the very end. “So now we must
be somewhere here,” he said, putting a finger on one of the blank pages.

“Where’s here?” cried the Head of the Army.

The young pilot was grinning broadly. He said to them, “That’s why
they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new
countries. You’re meant to fill them in yourself.”

—Roald Dahl, The bfg

In his classic children’s book The bfg, Roald Dahl expresses a fundamental cartographic conundrum that cuts deeply into the anxieties and opportunities of charting political space. On the one hand, the army and air force experts are anxious that their trusted map no longer reflects the land below—the uncharted space on the ground is empty white blankness on the atlas. At the same time, the pilot smiles with the acknowledgment that the space beneath them is something that is not a given, but has to be actively written. in a sense, Dahl reveals the essential tensions around the legibility of space through maps: the map is often taken for granted as a representation of what is, but once its function as a constructed image is . . .

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