Boston Public Schools Swap Out World Maps

Wikimedia commons

Students in Boston public schools recently faced a new reality when checking out the new maps that graced the walls of their classrooms — their world was different.

Or more specifically, the world maps that hung in their classroom.

That is because the Mercator projection map, which has graced the walls of classrooms across the country for decades, was switched to the Peters projection, a map which many say more accurately depicts the size of the continents.

“These maps offer a more culturally proficient view of the world than the traditional Mercator Projection maps, which distorts North America and Europe by representing a greater land area relative to their South American and African counterparts,” school officials said in a statement.

The initiative will see the Peters Projection maps placed in all second, seventh and eleventh-grade classrooms. It comes as “part of a three-year effort to decolonize the curriculum,” according to Colin Rose, assistant superintendent of Boston Public Schools Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps.

“So this is about maps, but it isn’t about maps,” he told the Boston Globe. “It’s about a paradigm shift in our district. We’ve had a very fixed view that is very Eurocentric. How do we talk about other viewpoints? This is a great jump off point.”

Mercator Projection map/Wikimedia commons

For more than 500 years the Mercator map, created in 1569 by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, has been considered the standard map projection for much of the world.

Created for marine navigation, specifically navigation of colonial trade routes, the map featured straight lines across the ocean and exaggerates the sizes of certain continents and countries, particularly those of the northern hemisphere which are made to look larger than those in the southern hemisphere.

An example of this can be seen in how the map draws Greenland larger than Africa, which actually has a geographical area 14 times its size.  While Europe is shown as being larger than South America, which is nearly double the size of Europe.

The Peters projection was published in 1974 by German historian Arno Peters as superior to the Mercator projection, although cartographers recognized it as being identical to a map made by Scottish cartographer James Gall in the 1800s.

The map, often referred to as the Gall-Peters projection, is “area correct” or an equal-area map which shows every part of the world to scale and in proportion to the surface of the Earth.

Peters claimed in developing the map that less-developed countries were presented in a “fair manner,” unlike how they are shown on the “Euro-centered” Mercator projection.

The controversy on map accuracy is ongoing, as the below clip from Season Two of The West Wing television show.

 

Cartographers say that every flat map misrepresents the surface of the Earth in some way and that the best representation of the surface of the Earth remains the globe.

What’s your opinion on the map debate?

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Amanda Scott

One comment

  1. “For more than 500 years the Mercator map… has been considered the standard map projection for much of the world.” This is simply not true. There are many alternatives to Mercator, in use for decades, which are far more accurate (although no attempt to project the surface of a globe onto a flat plane can be 100 per cent accurate).

    All the Peters projection does is distort the shape of the continents in the opposite direction from the Mercator projection. It reminds me of those maps where the areas of various nations are deliberately distorted to make size indicate median income, or production of oil, or number of murders per capita. This projection simply makes size indicate the continents which are most “politically correct.” We’re not talking accuracy here; we’re talking racial revenge.

    The Peters projection is the geographical equivalent of the Portland Baseline Essays, which replace the lies of racism with a set of counter-lies, rather than the truth.

    If you want to get all relativistic, why not a map that is a standard polyconic projection, only “upside down?” This would challenge the European prejudice that North is “up” without distorting the shapes of the continents.

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