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Geog 222 Lecture Outline: Peter's Map Projection Controversy
Update: 4/17/14

Peters' Map Projection

Technical details of this map projection

But we can also look at the map projection as a human created object

The controversy reveals that maps are ideological as well as technical representations

The Peters' incident reveals how something as seemingly objective as a map projection can become embroiled in ideological debates

Arno Peters and the Peters Map Projection Controversy

Background: Who is Arno Peters?

1950s: German textbook controversy: While writing his controversial textbook, Peters apparently came to believe that the world maps available in text books were highly problematic

The Peters' map projection is now one of the three most widely distributed world maps

Mercator and Peters Projections with Equator

Peters: "the Mercator projection overvalues the white man and distorts the picture of the world to the advantage of the colonial masters of the time"

Ward Kaiser: "the Mercator portrays a colonialist and racist mentality"

The bottom line:

Christianity Today Clipping: the Peters Projection

Proponents of the Peters' Map Projection have created teaching materials:

"The transformation of the world begins in the transforming of our minds, and the renewal of our minds begins with the transforming of the images we entertain: images we hang on our walls and images we carry with us in our heads."

Tempest in a Teapot: Cartographers Freak

So why the outcry?

In part because Peters' made claims that his map was the best way to map the entire globe

Maling: the Peters' projection is not quite equal area because of some minor problems with the equations used to create the projection

The projection is not "new": the Peters' projection is nearly identical to an obscure map projection devised in the mid 1800s by the Scottish Reverend James Gall

1991: World Atlas based on Peters' Projection was published by HarperCollins

Cartographers have addressed technical issues in criticizing the projection

They have not addressed the political issues Peters' raises: its social agenda

Claim by Peters that his map overcomes the Euro-centric mentality of the Mercator

Alas one of the most important critics of Peters is Arthur Robinson

Internal and External Contexts and Mapping

The internal context: much of what we have been discussing

But there is also an external context as revealed by the Peters' map controversy

Peters' world map is clearly more understandable from the latter perspective

The question is: do "neutral" things like the map projection and where it is centered and what it distorts affect our world view or not?

Thomas Saarinen: gathered over 3,800 sketch maps of the world by children from 49 countries in a National Geographic sponsored research project

Kids Mental Maps of World

Saarinen concludes: "A colonial mentality and Euro-centric image of the world still remains dominant in many places a quarter of a century after the end of the colonial era"

So think about this:

There is no absolute answer to these questions, but what seems clear is that the Peters map and all maps are part of a larger cultural, social, and political context

For more information:

E-mail: Geog 222 Main Page and Course Description krygier teaching page. krygier top page.

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