Five for Friday: Mental Maps and the World

Today I noticed a humorous map of the U.S. that highlighted the following of college football in every state, according to the institutions that had the greatest number of fans. I thought it was very clever and probably took a good amount of knowledge to draw up. For instance, in my home state of Virginia, the map shows a greater proportion of maroon (representing Virginia Tech) than blue (for the University of Virginia, VT’s collegiate rival) which is very true. Then I got to thinking about what it was that controlled how this informal cartographer decided to assign the appropriate amounts of school colors all over the 49 states–the absence of Alaska is conspicuous. Whoever made this interesting patchwork quilt of alma maters and their loyal geographic fan bases must’ve had a fair amount of familiarity with college sports, and enough gusto to dare to omit many schools from the mix.

1) Here is the collegiate football “mini nations” map:

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Beyond the world of NCAA sports, I remember seeing many maps created simply from a specific perception of the outside world, whether it was truthful (not usually), humorous, or meant as a way to spread awareness of an issue. Here are a few examples of other “mental maps” that I came across:

2) In a blast from the Cold War past, I found this surprisingly truthful (yet exaggerated for effect) map of “The World According to Ronald Reagan”, complete with the Western good guy and the reprehensible “Commie” to the East. I don’t think I could’ve captured the zeitgeist of the 80’s as well as David Horsey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, has here.

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3) Similar to Horsey’s map of the world is a map of the U.S–from a stereotypical Texan’s point of view. Here each state is generalized by its perceived characteristic(s) and the boundaries are adjusted according to how a Texan would see fit (and to ensure that no state is bigger than the Lone Star State).

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4) This famous cover from the New Yorker magazine isn’t really a map, but rather a perspective drawing that plays on the relatively egocentric attitudes that the artist, legendary American illustrator Saul Steinberg, felt many New Yorkers held. The Hudson River forms a boundary between Manhattan and the rest of mainland USA, terminating in the Pacific Ocean and Asia in the distance. The scale of the western U.S. is grossly underestimated to be somewhat larger than the distance between Manhattan’s 9th and 10th Avenues.

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5) Finally, here is a traditional world map that has simply been inverted and rebranded with a corrective view of the world that an Aussie would find favorable. Is it just me, or does it seem downright uncomfortable to the eyes to read an “upside down” map??


There are many more examples of such “mental maps” that are shaped by our colloquialisms and prejudices, positive or negative, that can be used quite effectively to make a point. It just goes to show how much geography can influence our view of the outside world (or lack thereof) and how intertwined the concept of mapping is with everything from politics to global trade. 


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