Real geography: US not so exceptional
Definitely suffering a senior moment here, and it’s one I have often: Did I do such-and-such, or did I only think about doing it? (Hate when this happens.)
Today’s case in point: Did I do a post about the Mercator and Peters projections/maps of the world, or did I only think about doing it? I thought I mentioned it in “Maps, maps, and more maps,” but apparently not. Turns out it was mentioned by IzaakMak in the Comments section of that post and I never followed up on it as I’d intended.
The world map most people are used to seeing is the Mercator projection, designed in 1569 as an aid for European navigators. It badly distorts the relative sizes of continents and countries in its effort to represent a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional map. But it was a navigation chart, not a map for teaching geography. The newer Peters projection shows the proper relative sizes of all the countries, and advocates think it’s the map that should be used in schools, if only to instill a bit of humility in US students. But it looks really weird and distorted to those of us used to seeing the Mercator map.
Overlaying one on the other doesn’t really help comprehension either:
Then I came across this map by Kai Krause, and I finally appreciated just how big Africa really is compared to other familiar land masses:
Right about now, however, it would be informative to have Russia and Ukraine on this map somewhere.
Aha! Business Insider to the rescue. In December, inspired by Krause’s map, they published “11 Map Overlays That Teach Real Geography” and included this:
Sobering, isn’t it?
They followed with this:
Okay. I have been thoroughly sobered.
There are nine other fascinating maps included in the article. Among them: Texas can fit inside Greenland three times, Greenland can fit inside China four times, Alaska can fit inside South America more than 10 times, and The U.K. can fit inside the Great Lakes. You really need to see the maps to fully appreciate them and our relatively puny decidedly not-exceptional status in the world.
Maybe we should just make sure there’s a good old-fashioned globe in every classroom — and in every politician’s office.
The issue of the Mercator and Peters projections was featured in an episode of The West Wing (S2E16):