Geography 222 The Power of Maps

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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: jbkrygier@owu.edu

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