The Rise and Fall of the National Atlas in the Twentieth Century

The Rise and Fall of the National Atlas in the Twentieth Century

Power, State and Territory

By John Rennie Short

Many countries produced an official national atlas in the twentieth century. This book examines these national atlases as an intriguing window into the connections between science, state, territory and power.

Hardback, 182 Pages


July 2022

£80.00, $125.00

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
  • Links
  • Podcasts

About This Book

The publication of the National Atlas of Finland in 1899 marks the beginning of the era of the modern national atlas. It is a period that coincides neatly with the twentieth century. The modern national atlas mirrors and embodies some of the important themes of this turbulent century, including the complex connections between nation, state and territory, the rise of state-sponsored science; the growth of nation-states; the geography of biopolitics. 

Between 1900 and 2000, more than seventy countries produced a national atlas, an official or quasi-official rendering of the nation-state in maps and accompanying text. A useful working definition of a national atlas is “a generally comprehensive, officially sanctioned single-country atlas.” This book considers the reasons behind and characteristics of this state-sponsored cartographic explosion. The changing form of the national atlas provides an intriguing window into the connections between science, state, territory and power.

The primary material for this study is a close reading of thirty-seven of these national atlases from countries across the world. They represent a wide range of countries from rich to poor, progressive to regressive, and capitalist to communist. In total, these atlases provide a range of different state arrangements and national experiences. 


“A highly significant work not only for cartographic studies but also for historians of nationalism. Properly wide-ranging and clearly argued, this important work deserves much attention.” – Jeremy Black, author of Maps and History. 

“The book is an engaging discussion of the history and the histories of national atlases around the world. By using abundant visual material, the author delivers a cartographic tour-de-force to point out connections between nation-state, territory, and maps in the twentieth century.” –Jorn Seemann, Professor of Geography, Ball State University, USA.

“This compelling new history shows how nations used the power of maps to advance their interests. Short’s wide-ranging survey spans the globe in an era of rising and falling empires, global warfare, and expanding economies. It reveals how modernizing states pictured themselves to the world with cartography.” – Dr. S. Max Edelson, Department of History, University of Virginia, USA.

Author Information

John Rennie Short is a professor in the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has published widely in a range of journals and is the author of fifty books. 


No series for this title.

Table of Contents

List of Figures; List of Tables; Acknowledgments; 1. Introduction, A Century of Nationalism, The Main Arguments, Structure of the Book; 2. The Early National Atlas, A Cartographic Explosion , The Early National Atlas in England and France; 3. Cartographic Anxieties and the Emergence of the Modern National Atlas, The Modern National Atlas in Latin America, From Anxieties to Certainties, Remaining Anxieties; 4. Cartographic Ruptures and the National Atlas, Cartographic Declarations of Independence, Revolutionary Ruptures, A Transect across the Ruptures; 5. National Atlas, Global Discourses, The Global Framing of the National, The Language of the Atlas: Text, The Language of the Atlas: Maps; 6. The Physical World of the National Atlas, Origins, Science, State and the National Atlas, National Imaginaries, Contested Discourses of the National Atlas; 7. The Social World of the National Atlas, Social Statistics, Statistical Atlases, Social Categories; 8. The End of the National Atlas?, Information Overload, New Technologies, National Atlas as Digital Portal, Toward a Polyphonic Participatory Atlas; Notes; Appendix: National Atlas Bibliography; Index 


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