The World Map Projection Issue

Our last class was really intriguing as we talked about the different types of world maps. I was blown away by learning that the Mercator Projection is so wildly off lol… I believed some countries were more prominent than in real life, like Russia. Even though the Peters Projection stretches things out a little, I think the accuracy is much better than the Mercator, and it should be used in all schools, in my opinion! I would have loved to see just how massive Africa was before now. I always thought it was about the same size as South America!

Peters World Map (Laminated Poster): Schofield & Sims: 8601404371486: Office Products

I found this article from 2017 that talks about Boston Public Schools and how they planned to switch from the Mercator Projection to the Gall-Peters Projection. They talk about the importance of showing countries as their actual size, and it is just a fascinating read.

How did you feel during the map discussion? Did you already know just how off the Mercator Projection is, or were you shocked to learn what we now know? What projection would you want to use in your classroom? Did you use a projection other than Mercator while in Primary school?

7 thoughts on “The World Map Projection Issue

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. Obviously, I’m fascinated by projections and think we should learn more about them, compare them, debate them. I love that the article ends with this:
    “…The best way to approach the subject is to present multiple maps, explain their strengths and weaknesses and compare them to accurate globes to truly understand the sizes and shapes of the world’s land masses. Choosing just one map does nothing but short the students of an entire world waiting to be discussed.”

  2. Thanks for this post, Madison. I, too, was completely blown away by our in-class conversation on geography night. I had no idea the Mercator Projection was so inaccurate; I do think the Gall-Peters projection is a good alternative. I wonder, too, how we might supplement classroom instruction with actual globes and other three-dimensional representations. Do globes solve then problem of the distortion or are there other issues that arise when teaching with globes that I’m simply not aware of? I know, of course, that globes are costly; flat paper maps are much easier to reproduce and work with. With the advent of 3-D printing, though, you’d think that dimensional geographical representations would be easier to make for the classroom!

  3. Hey Madison!

    I was very surprised and intrigued in watching the video Dr. Stohr played during class. It was also interesting to see them talk about how the map could possibly be in a completely different orientation (upside down). Obviously we can’t show students every global map ever made, so my questions for thought is how many maps should we expose students to reviewing? What’s the strategy in picking a selection of maps to show students? Some kind of Venn diagram that somehow compares 5+ maps to show commonalities, weaknesses, etc.?

  4. Madison,

    I too was blown away by our map discussion! In fact, I was so fascinated that as soon as I went home, I immediately discussed the Mercator, Peters, Hobo-Dyer, Goode, and McArthur’s map projections with my friends. I also found the psychology behind map portrayal interesting. We as individuals form implicit ideas based on map continent location (top or bottom) as well as based on portrayed size. As the article (and we as a class) discussed, the Mercator’s portrayal of Africa/South America as small and Europe/North America as large has a psychological component, portraying them as weak and powerful, respectively.

    I think it is interesting that Boston Public Schools plan to switch to the Gall-Peters map. I certainly agree with the decision to move away from the Mercator projection. We can acknowledge its navigational value without making it our sole map for students. After all, having learned from the Mercator, I left school with serious misconceptions about locations’ size. I also understand the Peters projection shows size more accurately. However, I do wonder why the county is not considering Winkel Tripel (more accurate and used by the National Geographic) or the Robinson.
    Although the Goode projection is not what we are used to, I am also considering the merits of the Goode projection. Although the interrupted nature may at first be disconcerting, I think it is important for us to show locations accurately.

    I think it is important for students to recognize countries’/continents’ shapes. Depending on class age, I do not see why we cannot expose students to multiple map projections, explaining the differences. After all, no map is truly accurate, and locations are still recognizable when comparing the maps. With the internet, different maps are certainly easily accessible.

    Thanks for furthering the discussion!

  5. Madison,
    I’m so glad you brought this topic up in your post. It truly surprised me that our world map has been used as another avenue to marginalize people of color and advance white supremacy. I never knew that Africa was bigger than the map had always shown. It is honestly appalling and disturbing that we have been allowed to base our knowledge of the world on an inaccurate map. I think more people need to be shown the Gals-Peter projection and be informed of the truth. I don’t think many people realize it’s so inaccurate. We all grew up learning and studying from the Mercator map. I found the other map we saw, the upside down map, to be fascinating. It is a great way to flip the script and view our world from a more humble and less eurocentric viewpoint. I think kids need to be shown the Mercator map and the Gals Peter map so that they are made aware during their study of geography. I don’t see why kids shouldn’t be shown both and be given an explanation on why they are different. These are all great social studies conversations that can be a great jump off to talking about some of the problems that exist in our world. I think talking about these things that are wrong or inaccurate put us on the right track to make things better in our world.
    Thank you, Madison, for the great discussion!

  6. Hi Madison!

    I’m sorry to be commenting on your blog post so late; I somehow missed a week of posts!

    Anyways – I found the map discussion to be fascinating; I’m not the best at looking at maps and finding places using them. However, I recognize and appreciate their beauty and usefulness; for example, The Virginia map by John Smith was so incredibly accurate for being drawn from sight, word of mouth, and without any technology.

    I believe during a sociology class in college or maybe a high school history class, we looked at the inaccuracy of the world map; it is mind-blowing to know just how off it is (and that we continue to teach and use it anyways). In the classroom, I think I would continue to use the standardized map only out of concern that using another could lead to confusion or could cause an incorrect answer on a standardized test. However, I would show other projections and explain the same information Dr. Stohr, and the TV clip showed us; again, this is valuable information that students should be well aware of. I think I would also like to have a poster of these various map projections displayed in the classroom; this will help students not forget about the different depictions and leave an invention for discussion and questions on the table.

  7. Hi Madison, thank you for taking the time to go more in-depth on the topic of maps!

    I was honestly surprised during our class discussion on maps. After attempting to draw our own version of the world map, I didn’t realize how oversimplified my “mental map” truly was. Further, I was unaware of the fact that South America is mostly east of Florida. Additionally, I had thought that Africa was situated below the equator; but, in fact, two-thirds of Africa lies north of the equator. Thus, I was unaware of how off the Mercator Projection is. As a result, I was very shocked to learn what we now know. As I investigated reasons why our mental maps are highly likely to be inaccurate, I stumbled upon an article called Why Your Mental Map of the World Is (Probably) Wrong by Betsy Mason on the National Geographic website, which I found informative. As I explored the other links within this article, I found an interesting “story map” from opening the “a story map that highlights three common misplacements” link. As I scrolled through the story map, the illustrations of the common misconceptions made the information easier to understand. For instance, the specific detail on the fact that the northern coast of Africa reaches a latitude reaching Norfolk, Virginia.
    One projection that I will want to display in my future classroom would most likely be the Peters Projection World Map. However, I do plan to incorporate learning experiences that involve the use of Google Earth and Google Maps. One activity that students could do while exploring Google Earth is to complete a “Google Earth Scavenger Hunt,” which Dr. Stohr discussed and provided handouts during our Instruction and Assessment in Elementary Science class.

    Overall, knowing what we know now, I will make it a priority to implement addressing these common misconceptions by provide students opportunities involving a combination of activities and lessons involving a 3-D globe in addition to the 2-D world maps.

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