Monday, March 20, 2017

CURMUDGUCATION: The Map of the World

CURMUDGUCATION: The Map of the World:

The Map of the World

Boston Public Schools just caused a stir by adopting a new map of the world.

"Boston public schools map switch aims to amend 500 years of distortion"reads the headline in the The Guardian, and "amend" is a good choice of words, because BPS decided to replace one set of distortions with another.

Boston had been using the Mercator Projection (1569), a version that we're all pretty familiar with.

Mercator distorts by spreading out the world as it approaches the poles, so that by the time we get to Greenland or Alaska, the land masses are looking much larger than they actually are. Mercator was mostly trying to help with navigation, and this map was fine for that. And since his audience/customers were mostly starting from Europe, his map reinforces the idea that Europe is the center of the world. And it makes Africa and South America look relatively smaller.

This is many people's mental map of the world, complete with its built-in distortions.

BPS decided to switch to the Gall-Peters projection (1855/1967) a map that sets out to render each land mass equally, so that the relative sizes of the land masses are accurate.

But because the projection is still onto a rectangle, Gall-Peters combats one distortion with another distortion. The Marcator inflates land area by stretching it out at the bottom and the top; Gall-Peters fixes that by squishing the map in at the top and the bottom until the land areas are comparable and "correct."

This version is not necessarily very useful for navigation, but in the late 20th century it stirred up a bit of a mess. Arno Peters was actually duplicating the 100-year-old work of James Gall, and he promoted it as a more just and socially aware map than the Mercator, annoying the crap out of the cartographic community, which had been CURMUDGUCATION: The Map of the World:

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