The entire world has relied heavily on the 1659 work of Geert de Kremer, also known as Gerardus Mercator. His projection might however have been the result of Western power play meant to downplay the actual size of Africa. Could there be a need for African geographers to think out of the box handed down by Kremer?
According to the Mercator template, which is the popular one, Canada is a very big country. It has up to six time zones, with seemingly endless plains bordered on each side by the ocean. Canada dominates the northern half of the globe. However, it has been discovered that three Canadas would comfortably fit inside Africa in reality. How?
According to research by some Boston schools, another projection is showing that the world map is largely a fraud. The Mercator, a 16th century map projection has been discovered to have distorted the size of countries.
The Boston schools taking a stand against the existing Mercator projection have introduced the lesser-known Peters projection from the 1970s, which is more recent and perhaps more accurate. The projection is also known as, Gall-Peters projection.
According to Natacha Scott, a social studies director at Boston Public Schools, the new teaching in class is part of a much bigger initiative meant to remove bias within education.
Scott said, “By incorporating the Peters projection maps — an equal area representation — into classrooms, we are opening the door for students to view the world in a different light.”
“By exploring geography, we also hope to increase an awareness of the relationship between themselves to other countries, communities, cultures and individuals around the world.”
The Peters projection maps areas in their actual sizes relative to each other, but by so doing their shapes are distorted.
Though a convenient way to chart the world, Mercator’s map distorts proportions, making some landmasses larger that they are in reality.
Professor Menno-Jan Kraak, president of the International Cartographic Association and professor of cartography at the University of Twente, Netherlands, said, “Somehow this map projection came to be used on most world maps, especially those produced for classrooms since the beginning of the 1900s.”
“Most of us have grown up with this world image.”
Kraak added that, today the Mercator projection is used as a template at Google Maps, Open Street Map and Bing. This cane with repercussions. The mind queries why when navigation with GPS began, the entire African nation could not immediately jump on it. Africa’s data was not yet known in details, by Africans believe that development must come downwards from the West. Hence it has to wait a little longer. This also explains why spaces were created to better map other continents, and Africa was not as detailed in the beginning.
The 1569 Mercator projection was said to have been made largely for sailors to navigate the sea.
It has also been described as a map for Europeans, and made by Europe.
On the Mercator map, Africa on the equator, reasonably undistorted, is looking much smaller than it is in reality. However, Russia, Canada, the United States and Europe are all pretty much enlarged.
The distortion is reportedly most noticeable around the poles; Greenland, which looks about the same size as the whole of Africa on the Mercator, is a classic example. Realistically, Greenland is no bigger than the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kraak said that, as European and North American countries were enlarged was no accident. This Mercator system provided more space for Western cartographers to mark their towns, cities, roads and so on in their part of the world. Africa was less their business then.
Kraak said, “If you would take a map projection with equal areas then there is almost no space on the map to display all [these details].”
As a possible politically motivated template, one of the dangers of the Mercator map is that it can make enlarged countries seem unnaturally powerful and intimidating to those that are actually bigger.
Marianne Franklin, professor of Global Media and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London said, “The term ‘power of representation and representation of power’ sums up quite well how maps and the rise of the Western nation-state system — and with that, empire and colonialism — are linked.”
“The world maps that prevail today have been embedded in Western imaginations since the British empire. They continue (to prevail) despite many challenges to their fairness and accuracy because they underpin the ongoing Anglo-Euro-American presumption that the world belongs to them, and pivots around these geo-cultural axes.”
Kraak added that in more recent times, maps have been used for propaganda, Kraak said, “If you take the Mercator projection, where Russia looks huge, give it a bright red color and then compare it to the rest of Europe, you see how dangerous it can look.”
Sadly, there is no such thing as a perfect map. Because the earth is a sphere — more of a potato-shape, in fact — it is impossible to map it on a flat surface without errors in proportion, explains Kraak.
Also the Peters projection has its flaws. In order to show the actual size of land masses, their shapes are distorted.
Boston Public Schools are rolling out the new maps in all second, seventh and eleventh grades for now, and aim to place them in all classrooms in the future.
Other alternative maps are being introduced around the world too. In the US and Germany, for example, maps based on the so-called Winkel Tripel projection, which has a smaller skewness, started to replace the Mercator in the 1920s.
From guiding 16th century explorers on the high seas to helping people navigate their way through their smartphones, Mercator’s template has continued to influence people’s perception of the world, even centuries after his death.
Mama Africa, could the size of what we to manage be really bigger than we have been long made to believe? Could it have been really politically motivated to make you appear inferior?