Mapping a Nation:
New Zealand’s relationship with its cartographic form

Donald Preston

Lecturer, Institute of Communication Design
College of Creative Arts, Massey University
Wellington, New Zealand


The simple outline map has become a potent symbol in New Zealand’s cultural lexicon, offering a base of enormous emotional force through which to communicate a wide range of concepts. This paper builds on earlier research into the inherent authority and persuasive power of maps, with a focus on those maps that evoke an emotional response in the “reader”, unrelated to the authorial intent. These maps, I argue, reflect a power shift from the “author” to the “reader”.

This paper examines the role New Zealand’s cartographic reality, as a series of islands at the “bottom of the world”, has played in the development of a national psyche and sense of self. Through the application of semiotic analysis and phenomenological description the paper explores how New Zealand’s cartographic outline and global position is immediately identifiable and has therefore lent itself, through reinterpretation and abstraction, to a wide range of application and visual expression.

A line, it has been said, is a child’s first instrument of depiction, the boundary where one thing ends and the other begins. The map reduces the country to a single line, a sudden, magical configuration. Making sense of the map was like discovering gold. (Atkinson, 2010, p. 42)

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