Which way is up?

This is the map of the world I use with my students. Some of my students (and colleagues) find this map disturbing. Their initial reaction is often “how come the map is upside down?”.

But this map is not upside down at all. Maps with North at the top were drawn by people in empires based in the northern hemisphere. There is no reason that 18th century politics and colonialism should determine the cartography of the 21st century.

The map also looks ‘squashed’ because it is a ‘cylindrical equal area projection’ – which means that the relative area of the land masses on the globe are accurately portrayed. If you think about it, portraying the surface of a sphere as a two dimensional rectangle is going to inevitable lead to some distortion. Traditional maps used the Mercator projection, which makes bodies of land closer to the poles appear much larger than they really are. Whilst this may suit the purposes and preferences of peopel who live in powerful and wealthy countries near the (north) pole, it is actually quite inaccurate and misleading.

It is impossible to represent the surface of a globe in a two dimensional way without distorting either size or shape. I think the use of this map evens things up a bit. Don’t you?

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One Response to Which way is up?

  1. I also find it interesting that when orients a map, we tend to think it means pointing North in the up direction. Originally it meant that one would point it towards the orient as that was the prime trade routes and areas that one needed a mpa to navigate to.

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