World War II started a revolution in map-making. It didn’t just change maps, but it also changed how the world looked at maps.
Maps suddenly became very interesting to everyone. Not just war strategists and troops but all those left behind on the home front. This interest was fueled even more by a revolution in how maps were made–a revolution that anticipated the information-sharing power of Google Earth.
“War has perennially driven interest in geography, but World War II was different,” reports this article in New Republic. “The urgency of the war, coupled with the advent of aviation, fueled the demand not just for more but different maps, particularly ones that could explain why President Roosevelt was stationing troops in Iceland, or sending fleets to the Indian Ocean.”
The story focuses on artist Richard Edes Harrison, whose World War II maps portrayed theaters of war with vivid clarity. He used the artist’s tools of shading, color and perspective to create maps “that could be intuitively understood by readers of widely varied levels of literacy and sophistication.” His “colorful and sometimes disorienting pictures (not quite maps)…emphasized relationships between cities, nations, and continents at the heart of the war. These maps were published in Fortune, then issued in an atlas that became an instant bestseller in 1944.”
After reading the article I ran a quick check of Google Books, one of my favorite go-to genealogy resources online, on “Richard Edes Harrison:. Sure enough, Google Books has a fully digitized copy of Life magazine (Feb 28, 1944) which includes the article “Perspective Maps: Harrison Atlas Gives Fresh New Look to Old World.” It’s not only chock full of his color maps, but includes a detailed section on how he drew his maps. You can see it here
What really caught my attention was the article’s explanation of how these World War II maps anticipated the information-sharing power of Google Earth. Google Earth shows us the terrain as well as geographic boundaries. That helps us understand things like movements of troops–or movements of ancestors.
As genealogists, we can learn so much by studying maps–particularly the powerful ones on Google Earth. Genealogy Gems Premium Members have access to my series of videos on Geographic Genealogy, including:
- Google Earth for Genealogy
- Time Travel with Google Earth
- 5 Ways to Enhance Your Research with Old Maps (brand new full hour class – retail value alone $39.95)
Premium Membership is a bargain at only $29.95 for an entire year’s access, plus right now you get the free bonus ebook Lisa Louise Cooke’s 84 Best Tips, Tricks & Tools from Family Tree Magazine.
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