TELEVISION / BRIEFING: Charting the course of history

A six-parter on cartography is never going to set the ratings alight a la Darling Buds of May, but TALES FROM THE MAP ROOM (8pm BBC2) is no less intriguing for all that. Julian Stenhouse's 'A Tissue of Lies', the first episode, shows that many maps are as fictional as that drawn by Robert Louis Stevenson for Treasure Island (an act re-created on a very low budget in this programme). Map- makers are politicians or, at least, politicians' puppets. The locations of Siberian labour camps and missile bases were simply off the map in the former USSR, and secret British military sites are still uncharted. But it was ever thus. An 1800 Chinese map showed that country as the centre of the world, with Europe, America and Africa as tiny offshore sand-bars. A chart from 1904 exaggerated the actual size of Russia and is said to have enlarged the perceived threat to the US during the Cold War. And a recent Australian map turned the conventional world view upside down. But maps can also be used for satirical purposes: Peter Brooke of the Times has drawn a cartoon of Italy as a mafia boss being dragged under water by the stone tied to his ankles: Sicily.

(Photograph omitted)

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