Map projections are ways of representing the Earth’s surface on a flat surface. One of the most popular projections is the Mercator projection, developed by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. This projection was designed for nautical purposes, as it preserves angles and therefore makes it easier to navigate. However, it distorts the size and shape of land masses, making countries near the poles appear much larger than they really are. This has been a subject of criticism for many years, as it perpetuates a Eurocentric and colonialist worldview.
One way to illustrate the distortions of the Mercator projection is to compare the size of different countries. For example, on a Mercator map, Greenland appears to be almost the same size as Africa, when in reality Africa is 14 times larger. Another way is to consider the size of circles on the map.
Recently, a planisphere was created to show the distortions of the Mercator projection in a different way. The planisphere shows every circle on the map with the same 500 mile radius. This means that the size of circles in different parts of the map are directly comparable. The planisphere highlights how distorted the Mercator projection really is, as circles near the poles appear much larger than those near the equator.
For example, on the planisphere, the circle that encompasses Greenland is much larger than the one that encompasses Australia, even though Australia is almost 15 times larger than Greenland. Similarly, the circle that encompasses Russia is much larger than the one that encompasses South America, even though South America is almost twice as large.
The planisphere is a powerful tool for visualizing the distortions of the Mercator projection and for understanding how cartography can perpetuate unequal power dynamics. By using a different projection or by employing a more critical approach to cartography, we can challenge the assumptions and biases that are built into our maps.
In conclusion, the Mercator projection is a popular but flawed way of representing the Earth’s surface on a flat map. The planisphere that shows every circle on the map with the same 500 mile radius is a powerful tool for illustrating the distortions of the Mercator projection and for understanding how cartography can perpetuate unequal power dynamics. By critically examining our maps and the projections we use, we can create a more accurate and just representation of our world.
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