New York Times Map of Eastern Europe

By E. Herlin. No Date.

This map of eastern Europe from the New York Times centers the region during World War II. Although this map doesn’t have a date on it, a few things can help us place it. First, the cartographer, Emil Herlin, did extensive work for the New York Times– according to his obituary in the times he joined the Art Department in 1926 and made maps for the newspaper until he passed away in 1943. He published a book “War Atlas– a Handbook of Maps and Facts” in 1940 with the Foreign Policy Association.

Herlin doesn’t specify on the map what the different lines he uses to indicate borders mean, except for the major bar labelled as the extend of German control at the end of World War I. The dashed lines seem to correspond to borders within the USSR and its constituent republics; Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 (which also helps us place the time the map was made somewhere around then), while the Ukraine, after having declared independence from Russia following the 1917 October Revolution and having been occupied by German and Austrian forces until the WWI armistice was signed in 1918, became a constituent republic of the USSR in 1922. The bolded borders with dots around them seem to indicate borders outside of the Soviet Union (which is why Poland, for instance, is partitioned). This is a very brief overview of the complicated border politics of the region across two wars– it’s notable, however, that the mapmaker didn’t choose to clarify his notation for these borders for a map that was intended for public consumption.

The features Herlin chose to highlight on the map correspond to its wartime context and are revealing as to the issues that everyday readers of the Times may be concerned about. Herlin uncovers little about the everyday lives of people in the region; there isn’t any indication of the size of major cities and towns, for example, or the presence of major roads. The only natural features highlighted on the map are rivers, mountains, and marshes– the map doesn’t focus on port cities or sea navigation. Herlin plots railways, coal, munition plants, canals, wheat, oil, oil pipelines, and iron, resources and infrastructure that may be important for wartime, but also for industry in general. The clusters of wheat, coal, iron, and munitions industries concentrated in the Ukraine in this context may help to explain the strategic importance of the country across the two world wars.

There’s a lot to unpack in this map, but I want to finish with a reminder that the target audience of the map was the readership of the New York Times. The features on the map were meant to explain the politics of Eastern Europe to everyday people and played a role in building popular geographic imagination of the region during WWII and leading up to the Cold War.

Have a good week,

Aidan Antonienko ‘21

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