Saturday, November 2, 2013

Our warped world view

Do you remember this map from your school days ?   Was it on the wall in your classroom too ?

Mercator Projection Map

It is  interesting that the map is centred on Europe: Germany, to be specific.  That's because some of the first navigational world maps were drawn by Germans.  Fair 'nuff. 


The maps we grew up with are called "Mercator Projection" maps, based on a mapping style designed by a Flemish geographer in 1569.  It was a nautical map based on a cylindrical projection and hence had lines of "constant course".  I think that sort of map was easier to follow when sailing the high seas.  Because this type of map hinges on parallels and meridians (latitude and longitude) being straight and perpendicular to each other, an unavoidable east-west stretching of the map occurs as you move away from the equator.  This sort of map is useful for finding a locations on the earth, but not helpful if you're looking for an accurate representation of relative sizes of countries or continents.

In other words,

the world as you and I visualize it, is a lie.   

Scroll back up, and look at North America and Africa.  Look at their relative sizes. They look about the same size, right ?

Now check out the map below.  Look at Africa and North America.  Hmmmm.  Boy Africa looks MUCH bigger. Compare the size of Europe in each of the maps.  Gosh, it sure looks bigger in the first map.

BTW the Mercator map displays Greenland as being larger than Africa, while in reality, Africa is 14 times bigger !   Alaska is depicted as being bigger than Brazil, in spite of the fact that Brazil is really  five times larger.

OK.  You get the point.

Gall-Peters' Map

The above map is called a "Peter's Projection" (Gall-Peters) map. Though it appears distorted, it shows the correct sizes of countries and continents.  What strikes you first when you look at this map ?   

Why are all the "important" countries much smaller-looking than we are accustomed to ?   Why are those "other" countries so damn big ?

                    I'm not sure how to break this to you: 
                but this is what the world really looks like !   

There is a socio-economic bias to the maps that we grew up with.  On the maps we've known, poorer countries are small and "down there" and rich countries are BIG and UP there.

In the image below, the Peter's Projection (green) is shown overlapping our erroneous world view.  

Since the Peter's map has existed for several decades, why aren't we seeing it in our classrooms ?
It's a question worth asking.  
But you and I already know the answer -- don't we ?

Here from the TV show, "The West Wing" is an amusing and revealing expose of the failings of the Mercantor Projection map along with an explanation of why we should no longer be using it in our schools.   Watch it and get back to me if you agree things should change in our classrooms.  Heck, get back to me even if you don't agree.


  1. Sybil, I am so impressed by this new map. (Read this earlier and have thought about it off and on all morning.) You know what's so cool about it? That the world can change! It's just like people at the time of Columbus thinking the world is flat. And us thinking that our continents are a different size/perspective than they are. Just the fact that this new map exists means that there's change afoot. The larger consciousness is starting to shift the balance of power. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm inspired!

    1. I'm trying to find out Kathy just what maps are in our schools. Do me a favour and check out some of the class rooms where you're teaching and let me know if you find these old maps have been replaced by globes. Did you watch the "West Wing" clip ?

    2. Nope, I didn't watch the clip. (said with chagrin and sorrow.) I think they're still using the old world model, but will try to see--if I remember. Have only one more day to work and then up, up and away to Florida for my mama's 81st birthday party!

  2. Well, I'll be dang. Good of you to set the record straight. I never really paid that much attention. I just knew that Africa, India, China, Russia, and South America and Canada are all huge counties but then I mostly looked at a globe map. Don't have time to watch the clip. I take your word for the info. Thanks, Sybil.

  3. I love maps, but I was not aware of this crazy discrepancy. Very interesting. Thanks for pointing it out.

    1. I'm not sure why folk in Africa let us get away with this ...


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