The Power of Cartographers

Who on Earth gave a few people the power to tell us about the Earth? Think of it – historically speaking – cartographers had the power to draw you off the map. They could name you whatever they felt like naming you, they could size you how much they thought you were worth. They could redistrict you in 2 dimensions, generalize whichever way they pleased! And who’s to say they did it wrong, who’s to challenge the authority? Only another cartographer of course. Get it?

Granted, we wouldn’t be around without them. They did after all help to “discover” half the world, right? Nevertheless, global trade, commerce, and British imperialism all relied on their drawing skills.

I won’t get into the specifics of cartography, but it’s complicated. Don’t learn it. The basic principle is that a cartographer must be able to transfer a 3 dimensional globe onto a 2 dimensional map. The proportions just don’t work right. There are other complications, when it comes to navigation: do you align the map by latitude and longitude, by relative land size, by territory shape? Or do you do it however the hell you want?

Cartographers through the ages did one of those, or a mix. Nowadays, all but the last are usually the ones most applicable.  You need latitude and longitude for sea trade, but territory shape looks best in a textbook…or does it?

Way back when when they had ships and stuff, navigators started to use latitude and longitude grids for navigation. They needed maps to do this, and thus the Mercator map was born in 1569. This map was great for its time, it was necessary and still is for sea navigation. But it makes the world look terribly inaccurate. But that’s convenient, I guess, since Europe gets to be a whole lot bigger. This is the map you all should be familiar with. It’s the map in the textbooks, the walls, the table mats:

File:Mercator projection SW.jpg

There are others like this with different purposes, aesthetic or practical. But the truth, plain and simple, is that the United States doesn’t fit in Greenland. Eurasia is a bit bigger than Antarctica. So you see other projections that look a bit more believable. Try this, the Robinson Projection:

File:Robinson projection SW.jpg

This one, by testimony of the author, is distorted on the tops and bottoms, but gets more and more accurate as you move towards the middle. We see this map all the time because it looks a bit like Mercator and fits our arcane view of the world. But to modern cartographers, it just doesn’t satisfy.

Check out Winkel tripel, Robinson’s successor:

File:Winkel triple projection SW.jpg

But those are all Euro-centric scams. Ladies and gentleman, this is the way the real world looks like:

Or was it this one?

File:Mollweide projection SW.jpg

This one?

Just kidding, I don’t know. Who knows. No one, really. Lots of debate among scholars, no consensus. It’s not so Eurocentric as it ones, anyway (except for the part where Europe is in the middle). Just remember, Mercator is terrible. All the others have some sort of distortion, one way or the other. Don’t forget. Oh, and Africa really isn’t that small:

Africa is much, much bigger than you think


3 thoughts on “The Power of Cartographers

  1. Pingback: 100th post. | Whispers of Satan

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