Our planet is a three dimensional, essentially spherical collection of oceans and landmasses. Representing all the landmasses and features on a flat, 2 dimensional plane is never entirely accurate. As a result, decisions must be made about how to arrange and distort continents so that they fit into the 2D space. There isn’t a truly unbiased way to do this. Humans are responsible for making the decisions and they tend put place themselves in the center, top part of the map. The most commonly used world map in the United States is the Mercator projection map created by a German cartographer Gerardus Mercator. This map places Germany in the top central position and distorts the sizes of landmasses that are closer to the north and south pole. I found an interactive tool that takes this map as starting point, but also allows you to drag continents and countries around to see their distortions and compare actual sizes.
“The True Size Tool”
I started to wonder what world maps look like that are produced by other countries.
Here’s an interesting example of what world maps look like in China. From our perspective, it looks like the Eastern and Western hemispheres have been switched. Instead of being off to the far right edge of the map, China is closer to the center here. Although it may look strange to us, it is no less accurate than the maps in the U.S.
An Australian man named Stuart McArthur designed a “south up” world map.
He was understandably tired of his country being referred as “Down Under” or called the bottom of the world. Again, his map is no less accurate than the Mercator projection map. It certainly calls attention to our arbitrary assumption that North has to be “up.”