Constructing the world: the Mercator map vs the Peters projection

Here are some useful resources for teaching geopolitics, political geography and constructivism, using the Mercator projection (the standardised map that we’re all pretty used to) and showing how far its representation of the world distorts our understanding of that very same world.

The Economist have produced this fantastic map of Africa, with other states mapped on top, to illustrate just how much bigger it is than we think and are used to.

It uses work done by a ‘computer graphics guru’ Kai Krause in his crusade against ‘immappanacy’ (poor geographical knowledge).. (new favourite word of the month?)

Of course all 2D maps have to be somewhat distorted (as they are representing a 3D globe), but the Mercator projection is one of the worst offenders in terms of distorting the relative size of countries. Another great resource for illustrating this is the classic video clip from the West Wing, where White House press secretary CJ meets with cartographers to discuss changing the maps used in US education:

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9 thoughts on “Constructing the world: the Mercator map vs the Peters projection

  1. Regarding that Africa map – Kenneth Field has done a better analysis/map on that case: http://cartonerd.blogspot.se/2011/09/welcome-to-marauding-carto-nerd.html

    Many of us cartographers hate the Mercator vs Gall-Peters (the proper name of the projection). The latter is often presented as the ONLY alternative, which is not correct – there are many better alternatives for an equal-area projection. The Winkel-Tripel projection, that National Geographic uses for global thematic maps is a good alternative (near equal-area). Personally, I am big fan of the Wagner VII projection: http://www.mapthematics.com/ProjectionsList.php?Projection=188

      1. No – go ahead – varsågod!

        The history about Arno Peters crusade is a bit interesting – when I used to work for the UN I sometimes got questions if it was true that we were required to use the Gall-Peters projection (stemming from some rumour that the UN had adopted this projection as the ‘official UN map projection’)

  2. Jonna, UN does not have any official stance on map projections. There are guidelines though for sensitive country recognitions and boundaries – like e.g. Kashmir, Palestine etc. One of my then colleagues got into trouble for presenting Western Sahara (i.e. occupied territory) as an independent country…

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