(Re)Placing America: Cold War Mapping and the Mediation of International Space
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The United States emerged from World War II as an undeniably global power, and as the Cold War unfolded, America faced decisions about where to place and display its power on the globe. The Cold War was a battle between two ideologies and competing world systems, both of which were vying for space and had the tools and technologies to control those spaces. Maps became a central vehicle for the testing of these new boundaries. Mapping projects and programs emerged from a variety of popular cartographers, foreign policy strategists, defense leaders, Congressional representatives, scientists, oppositional movements, labor unions, educational publishers, even everyday citizens. As each of these sources confirms, the scope of American commitments had expanded considerably; to account for this expansion, a cartographic impulse underwrote the continually evolving Cold War, and the tensions of art and science, realism and idealism, and space and place inherent in this impulse helped form the fault lines of the conflict.
(Re)Placing America looks largely at the ways that cartography adapted to such changes and tensions in the second half of the twentieth century, and how the United States marshaled the practice of mapping in a variety of ways to account for the shift to internationalism. This dissertation explores how cartography mediated visions of space, and particularly, how it defined America's place within those spaces.
Treating cartography as a complex rhetorical process of production, display, and circulation, the five chapters cover major geopolitical thematics, and the responding evolution of maps, from World War II until the Cold War's end in the early 1990s. Some of these driving themes include the "air-age" expansion of visual perspectives and strategic potential in journalistic maps; the appropriation of cartography as a medium for intelligence and national security objectives; the marshaling of maps as evidential weapons against the Soviet Union in diplomatic exchanges, Congressional reports, and government-sponsored propaganda; the shifts from East/West antagonisms to North/South ones as cartography was drafted into the modernization efforts of the U.S. in mapping the Third World; and the Defense Department's use of maps to argue for nuclear deterrence, while protest groups made radical cartographic challenges to these practices of state power. (Re)Placing America reads closely the maps of the forty-years-plus conflict and considers the complexity of their internal codes (in colors, shapes, icons, etc.), while also reaching out externally to the intersecting interests and visions of the cartographic producers and the Cold War contexts in which they emerged. The project seeks out and explores particular nodal points and thematics where maps consolidated and shaped changing shifts in perception, where cartographic fragments cohered around the defining moments, but also sometimes in the everyday politics of the Cold War.
Ultimately, this project offers four conclusions about and conduct and operation of American mapping during the complex, ideologically charged time of the Cold War. First, the function of the map to both "fix" and "unfix" particular perceptions of the world is relevant to assessing how America sought to stabilize its place in a rapidly changing world. Second, the internationalism of the Cold War was bound up in the capacities for cartography to document and adapt to it. Third, the humanistic notion of a geographical imagination is central to understanding why particular Cold War agents and institutions continually drew on cartography to represent their interests. Finally, combining an ideological approach to reading maps as articulators of contextual tensions and historical ideas with an instrumental approach to maps as material, strategic documents can best help to situate cartography as an ongoing process of production, circulation, and display.