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Mapping the Unmappable: Cartography at War

A Research Paper by Doug Specht, published by LivingMaps Review

As I write this, we have just entered the third year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This anniversary brought the war briefly back to the front pages. This conflict has been lost in the news of war in Gaza. These, though, are just two of 32 active conflicts happening globally at the time of writing (Global Conflict Tracker, 2024). The world has been at constant war for centuries – since the founding of the United States of America, the country has only been at peace for 17 years. Similarly, Russia has waged war externally and internally for hundreds of years. Many other countries have similar track records, leading to a state of perpetual war. These forever wars are waged through active combat, misinformation, propaganda, media, and maps.

The intersection of maps and warfare represents a complex and historically significant relationship that transcends geographical boundaries and historical epochs. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine provides a contemporary lens through which to examine the connection between cartography, military strategy, propaganda, and media. In this conflict, like all conflicts, maps serve as not only navigational aids but also as potent instruments of power projection and territorial assertion, especially when reproduced in the media. The delineation of borders, the identification of strategic targets, and the visualization of military campaigns are all facilitated by cartographic representations, highlighting the indispensable role of maps in modern warfare. Beyond Ukraine, however, the influence of maps on war extends to a diverse array of conflicts spanning ancient conquests, colonial expansions, and contemporary insurgencies. Throughout history, maps have served as essential tools for military commanders, providing crucial spatial intelligence and aiding in the planning and execution of military operations. By examining the role of maps in various conflicts, this paper seeks to elucidate the enduring significance of cartography in shaping the conduct and outcomes of warfare, while also exploring the broader implications of the connection between maps and war for geopolitics and international relations.


Image by Baptiste Heschung from Pixabay

Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


14 April 2024
Published By
LivingMaps Review
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