Map correctness and its consequences

I’ve had a globe for years and prefer it when looking up countries with my kids, as obviously it provides us with the most accurate perspective on our world (Google Earth too now, of course). There is no shape/size filter or projection involved.

But on paper, we are used to looking at the world in Mercator projection. It’s what on most atlas pages.

World map in Mercator projection

The Mercator projection originates in the 16th century, and is really useful when navigating the world’s oceans by boat. However, it does very little for giving you even a remotely adequate idea of what the world really looks like – specifically, proportions.

Sure, we know and can see that since earth is roughly a sphere, in order to do this projection we need to stretch the world horizontally the closer we get to the poles. But what you may not usually spot is that the equator is located about two thirds down the page. Hmm….

Below is our world in Peters projection:

Peter's Map

One of its main features (at least to me) is that it puts the equator in the middle.

You can further mess with your brain by putting Australia in the centre, and/or turning the whole map up-side-down. All that still amounts to the same earth, it’s just a matter of perspective. And perspective matters. It matters a great deal.

Generally speaking, larger is regarded as more important, and by convention things at the top of a page similarly so. What proper proportions (and positions) teach is a better sense of where we (you and I individually, and our respective countries) are in the world in relation to everything else.

This clip from The West Wing TV series covers the topic awesomely well:

See for some more maps and info on true relative size.

A case can easily be made that these days, map projection amounts to politics. Your projection will define how you view the world and your own relative position (and size) in it. Interesting, isn’t it?

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