By Brooke Marston
The Office of the Geographer and Global Issues (GGI) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research recently released the new U.S. Department of State Facilities and Areas of Jurisdiction, April 2021 world map (see Figure 1). Commonly known as the “Foreign Service Posts” map, it visualizes the Department of State’s official presence worldwide and the organizational structure of the regional bureaus. Undoubtedly one of the most popular world maps produced by the federal government, seemingly every office in the Department has at least one hanging on its walls in various dated, faded conditions. But the map is more than a timestamped snapshot of the Department’s presence throughout the world. Along with its predecessors, it tells a story about the United States’s diplomatic relationships as they unfolded across a dynamic geopolitical landscape over centuries.
In a cold, steel flat file cabinet deep in the GGI archives, is a canvas atlas yellowed with age; dated March 1, 1888, the Maps Showing the Location of the Diplomatic and Consular Offices of the United States of America (see Figure 2-3) were drawn by the Department of the Navy’s U.S. Hydrographic Office, and capture early details of the Department’s history. Amidst the rapid industrialization following the Civil War, the United States’ official presence abroad—then divided between the diplomatic service (for conducting political relations with countries) and the consular service (for promoting trade and protecting Americans overseas)—expanded to meet the demands of a burgeoning global economy.
Looking at the 1888 maps (see Figures 4-10), consular outposts were often situated along coastlines to facilitate maritime commerce, as was likely the case with the remote consulate in far northern Iceland. The consulate in Portugal’s Azores, a geostrategic location in the North Atlantic established in 1795, is the oldest continuously operating U.S. consulate. The many consular posts along the U.S.-Canada border and northeastern coast of North America reflected the gold rushes and timber trade that brought Americans across the border, and tensions over fishing rights sometimes flared into retaliatory vessel seizures. Consuls often assisted distressed citizens or helped secure their release from local authorities after pub brawls or “overindulging” while celebrating shore leave. Other interesting cartographic details include uncharted and dashed polar lands, stylish curved labels, early spellings “COREA” and “MAROCCO”, and the sparsely marked interiors of Asia and Africa that underscore how much of the world was still little known by U.S. government officials. One of the earliest and most comprehensive atlases of its kind, it was undoubtedly an invaluable resource at the turn of the century.
It wasn’t until 1932 that the next “Foreign Service Posts” map in the archive was published (see Figure 11), the first of its kind created by cartographers in GGI (as it is now called) after the office’s founding in 1921 as part of the Division of Political and Economic. It was photo-lithographically reduced from a nine-foot wall map prepared the previous year in response to a request from the House Appropriations Committee. The map, distributed to all diplomatic and consular offices, illustrates several key organizational changes. The U.S. had become a major power and thus started elevating ministers to ambassadors and legations to embassies. As the leading post-World War I financial power, the U.S. had bolstered its presence overseas, particularly in Latin America and Europe. The Rogers Act of 1924 merged the diplomatic and consular Services into the Foreign Service, reflected in the 1932 map’s title. It would be the last “Foreign Service Posts” map to use the Mercator projection, of which the Department’s Geographer Samuel W. Boggs once declared, “A map that makes Greenland look larger than all of South America, instead of smaller than Argentina, is not suited to portray world relationships.” It’s worth noting Greenland is obscured on the 1932 map with an inset. It’s no surprise then that the next map, published five years later in 1937, uses Boggs’s own “orange-peel” (interrupted) projection (see Figure 12), a bold choice that was also never used again. Other notable features are the square scale diagrams, ornate Europe inset, notations of disputed land—see “(Unsettled)” in South America—the Antarctic Peninsula depicted as an island, and mapping of bygone territories like Portuguese India (modern-day Goa), British Colony of Aden, and the Japanese Empire’s Kwantung Leased Territory (on modern-day Liaodong Peninsula, China).
As U.S. foreign policy evolved after World War II, so too did the map. Owing in large part to the founding of the United Nations and decolonization of Africa, more than fifty states—nearly half of the total sovereign states recognized by the U.S. in that era—gained independence between 1943 and 1965. The Department established embassies at an explosive pace, locking into a power struggle with the Soviet Union. The 1966 map (See Figure 13) is the last showing legations; the remaining two, in Bulgaria and Hungary, were elevated to embassies later that year. After Germany divided, the Department established Embassy Bonn in the Federal Republic of Germany. The embassy would formally return to a unified Berlin in 1999. The conspicuous absence of posts in mainland China reflects the Department’s decision to close facilities and move the embassy to Taipei during the Chinese Revolution of 1949. The Department also shuttered facilities in Cuba in 1961 as diplomatic relations broke down following Fidel Castro’s seizure of power. On the 1966 map, regional bureaus were mapped in five basic colors, with their constituent offices marked by stripes, cross hatching, wiggly lines, or dots. Unlike the Boggs projection, the rectangular-shaped Miller cylindrical projection utilized the whole page, which made labeling the growing number of countries and posts easier and more legible. Cartographers added bureau and boundary legends, and parenthetical office symbols for dependencies or remote island groups. It’s one of the more striking maps in GGI’s archive.
The first post-Cold War era map in the archive was published in 1992 (see Figure 14). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Department quickly established embassies in newly independent former Soviet republics. The shuffling of the Department’s regional bureaus and country offices reflected shifting geopolitical priorities. The Office of Soviet Affairs was renamed the office of Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs. The Bureau of South Asian Affairs (SA)—established just four months after the map was published—would separate India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Nepal from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The five former Soviet republics in Central Asia would be handled by the Office of the Special Advisor for the Newly Independent States until 2001, eventually merging with SA to create the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in 2006. Abandoning the kaleidoscopic patterns of the 1966 map, the 1992 map has five simple color tones for the regional bureaus and a legend that lists which country or countries fall under each regional office. Another noteworthy design choice was replacing latitude and longitude lines with time zones thereby increasing the legibility of labels and helping users calculate local time in their areas of interest.
These changes don’t happen in a vacuum. Updated every several years, the map is a Department-wide effort. Information is coordinated for accuracy through the regional bureaus, the Bureau of International Organizations, and the Bureau of Consular Affairs. GGI cartographers work with post management officers to confirm facility location and status, bureau jurisdictions, and office directories. Global Publishing Solutions (GPS) in the Bureau of Administration prints and disseminates the maps domestically and overseas. The 2021 map replaces the 2014 version and is the first significant redesign of the map since the mid-1900s. The Robinson projection better preserves shapes and areas, presenting a more accurate cartographic depiction of the world than the previous maps. Updates include changes in international boundaries (like Morocco and Israel), name changes (Eswatini, North Macedonia, Nur-Sultan, etc.), and removing or adding posts (like the addition of the new U.S. Consulate in Nuuk, Greenland). Time zone clocks were added above the map and a small map was incorporated into the legend to improve how users interact with this information. New fonts and colors freshen and modernize the style of this flagship product.
The art of mapmaking has come a long way and today’s maps are a far cry from their 19th century ancestors. But all maps are ephemeral by nature, so as the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world changes, GGI cartographers will continue mapping it.
For employees wishing to obtain a complimentary copy of the latest world map, email GPS customer service.
Brooke Marston is a cartographer in the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of State’s member to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.