A different world map

 

Arno Peters, an amateur historian, devised a map based on Gall’s orthographic projection in 1967 and presented it in 1973 as a “new invention.” He promoted it as a superior alternative to the Mercator projection, which was suited to navigation but also used commonly in world maps.

The Mercator projection increasingly inflates the sizes of regions according to their distance from the equator. This inflation results, for example, in a representation of Greenland that is larger than Africa, whereas in reality Africa is 14 times as large.

Since much of the technologically underdeveloped world lies near the equator, these countries appear smaller on a Mercator, and therefore, according to Peters, seem less significant. On Peters’s projection, by contrast, areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the map.

By using his “new” projection, poorer, less powerful nations could be restored to their rightful proportions. This reasoning has been picked up by many educational and religious bodies, leading to adoption of the Gall-Peters projection among some socially concerned groups.

Peters’s original description of the projection for his map contained a geometric error that, taken literally, imply standard parallels of 46°02′ N/S. However the text accompanying the description made it clear that he had intended the standard parallels to be 45° N/S, making his projection identical to Gall’s orthographic. In any case, the difference is negligible in a world map.

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2 thoughts on “A different world map”

  1. Thanks for this article, it is important to know that maps are designed on the basis of certain criteria, that there isn’t a single right way to draw them, and that the preferential ways of representation are not always politically innocent. (That said, the Mercator projection is a better representation of the actual shapes of the continents, while the one that renders the size correctly distorts the shapes more.)
    Who would guess e.g. that Gabon is larger than the UK (ca. 270.000 km2 as against ca. 245.000 km2) when it appears so small on the usual world map? By the way, there’s a map that tries to illustrate the comparative size of Africa in relation to other parts of the world by superposition: http://odtmaps.com/detail.asp_Q_product_id_E_Africa-Believe-31×24 (I found a reproduction of this map in a book, just googled the link for your convenience).

    1. Safisy, thanks for such an informative comment. Peters projection is becoming quite a popular element on the walls around developing countries. At the University of Zimbabwe in Harare I even spotted a map with the Southern hemisphere on top. Surely, there isn’t a single right way to draw maps.

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