Reflecting on Projecting

(ha! See what I did there?)
Today I’m thinking about maps.

Here’s a thing. and another. and xkcd. and my album on pintrest of map projections.

Considering I’m interested in the way we project ourselves onto the world, maps are a particularly fascinating thing for me. The world, as we know, is a sphere, it it therefore impossible to represent the it truly accurately on a flat surface. Try peeling an orange and laying its skin flat on the table, not only will there be places that don’t connect anymore than used to (the places where you tore the peel) but there will also be puckering where you try to flatten out its remaining curves, trying to make it into a rectangle is pretty difficult.This means that people who make maps have to design the projection (of the sphere onto a plane) and make decisions about what it is for, and what is important to preserve undistorted.
The Mercator Projection, arguably the projection that most people think of when they think “world map,” distorts the poles wildly, making Greenland seem to be about the same size as Africa. This is because it was designed to make trans-atlantic navigation easier, so it preserves latitudes as straight lines. In fact, Mercator called his map a “new and augmented description of Earth corrected for the use of sailors,” making this fact quite clear.
Other maps have been developed for other purposes, the Peters projection was developed as a political answer to Mercator and other maps. It criticized Mercator for being Eurocentric, and is an attempt to represent all the people of the world as equal by representing areas on the map more proportionately. If we associate “up” and “top” and “big” with better, and “bottom” and “small” and “down” with worse (and we often do make these linguistic associations, at least in English,) the distortion of Europe to be relatively bigger than it should be on a Mercator (or other similar projection), and it’s placement in the top center of the map leads to a very particular world view. Especially when the majority of maps that most people encounter conform to these paradigms, people can begin to see that version of the world as an objective truth, without even really realizing it.

Rosencrantz: I don’t believe in it anyway. 
Guildenstern: What? 
Rosencrantz: England. 
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?

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