The wrong map, or why G. Mercator sucks

Blame on you Gerardus Mercator! Western hero, well known for the new geographical standard he created in 1596. A beautiful representation of the world. Whatever his technical talent, every child on our planet is able to guess how IMPOSSIBLE it is to take a spherical shape (the actual, global surface of our planet) and lay it down. It is a tricky job to transform a 3D surface into a 2D one, without creating distortions.

What’s wrong with that? Well, as long as distortions are quite evenly spread, there’s no big deal, indeed. But in Mercator’s case,  distortions affect our global vision of geopolitics. At a time of growing importance of countries such as China and India, and as we seem to witness a renaissance of Africa as a whole, how can we keep on spreading big lies? Such as the following (check them out here):

  • Scandinavia is bigger than India
  • North America seems to be as large as Africa
  • Greenland (Greenland!!) looks as large as Africa (come on, Mercator, who’s your sponsor??)

Scandinavian arrogance? North American self-sufficiency and propaganda? Greenland’s provocation?

Of course, back in the XVIth century, both Africa, China and other South countries had little influence on a global perspective. They probably would just shut up. Or if they would say a word, their claims would remain unnoticed. The big political power was well kept within Western, mostly Europan, countries. However, how could such a wrong map remain unchanged for so many centuries? How can people, both in the North and in the South, remain so much influenced by this world map, displayed on the wall of so many school classes, so many public spaces, museums, and, in the end, so many households?

Isn’t it strange that we so often connect lies and mistakes with our interpretation of history, with, for instance, a long series of different versions of every single war? And that we all remember well of different opinions about a king’s or a queen’s grandeur? We’re always ready to criticize historians for their lack of objectivity, and sometimes their tencency to rewrite history! Then what about their colleagues from the geography corner? Now let’s be clear that geographers too have customers. And have to deal with « customer satisfaction »! Sorry Gerardus, king of illusions!!

Laurent

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