Is the world’s perspective on map location completely wrong?

Country Map

More and more cartographers and geographers are coming to the conclusion that the conventional map does not accurately represent country borders and other physical features, which is fueling the argument over whether or not an upside-down map is the most accurate world map.

However, is the world really prepared for a discussion and possibly a shift from the centuries-old Mercator style of the global map?


The facts

The north facing straight ahead and the south pointing downhill are typically what spring to mind when you think of the globe map. This is shown on the most widely used map of the world, known as the Mercator map, after the Flemish geographer Geradus Mercator. He created the version in 1569 to facilitate maritime travel.

The oldest versions of maps can be traced some 14,000 years ago. They were discovered scribbled on cave walls. From ancient times, human societies have depicted them on stone tablets, papyrus, paper and now computer screens ever since.

World maps usually show political features, such as country borders, and physical features. The history, astrophysics, and psychology of how it came to be thought that way are all interwoven in this complex tale.

To add, the politics of tradition, nationality, religion, race relations, and perhaps an obsession with the northern hemisphere has influence how global maps are presented.


The arguments

No map is perfectly correct because distortions always occur when projecting a sphere onto a two-dimensional surface. The simplest reason according to scientist Carl Frederick Gauss is that a sphere’s surface cannot be adequately represented on a flat plane without undergoing some sort of physical distortion.

Map historian from Queen Mary University in London and the author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps, Jerry Brotton, asserts that the north seldom ever appeared at the top during a significant portion of human history. According to him, the reason behind this was because darkness originates in the north.

Further reports confirmed that in the many centuries that humans have been creating maps, the north has never been seen as being at the top. Majority of early Muslim societies were located north of Mecca. They envisioned looking up, or towards south which is why early Islamic maps favored the south at the top. Also, because it was thought to be more desirable than deepest, darkest north, early Chinese compasses were actually orientated to point south.

Despite the similarities from early maps, the widely used Mercator world map by sailors warps shapes and sizes, according to experts. The early cartographers that first drew the maps were of European decent.

The Mercator projection actually causes countries close to the equator to shrink and those at polling places to increase. North was positioned at the top by Mercator. This implied that Europe will be in the center, above all others. The selection of this map and its contemporary ramifications were regarded as biased.

America and Europe, particularly, comprises the countries whose sizes this projection overestimates. Third world countries, typically defined as those in Africa and South America, are drastically smaller than those in Europe and North America.

The strategic location of America and Europe also seems to support imperialist notions of these nations’ superiority. Generally speaking, the north is connected to wealthier individuals, greater real estate values, and higher altitudes, whereas the south is connected to less fortunate individuals, lower real estate values, and lower altitudes. Hence the term the “north-south bias”.

Psychologists contend that people automatically associate importance with size. The third world countries are effectively duped into believing they are smaller than they actually are, while the western world continues to feel it is bigger and better than everyone else because of the Mercator projection.

The Gall-Peters projection, which depicts the equal and actual areas of countries but incorporates some of the shape distortions associated in mapping a globe, provides a more accurate representation.

It is no wonder the south up map was created by Joaquín Torres García, a Uruguayan modernist painter to make a political statement. He placed the south pole on the top of the earth to show the importance of South America.

Stuart McArthur continued to support the south-up map in the late 1970s. The Australian, who was made fun of for coming from the bottom of the world, revealed that his intention was to address the constant barrage of “downunder” jokes, which are jokes from northern countries that suggest a country’s level of prestige is based on its equivalent geographic location on a traditional map of the world.

Upside down map
Which way is up? (Facebook: Hema Maps)

Even though it has sold many fewer copies than its north-up predecessor, cartographers still refer to this as “McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World”.

According to experts, it’s critical that people view representations other than the Mercator projection, which is widely acknowledged in our culture as the accurate depiction of reality. They believe that more correct country sizes should be depicted on maps in everyday use to prevent significantly skewed relative sizes.




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