Mercator Map of the World United

 

Do you know what the longest airline flight in the world is? Well, in 1944, it was roughly 40 hours. This fact runs across the middle of my Map of the Week. I chose a map called Mercator Map of the World United: A Pictorial History of Transport and Communications and Paths to Permanent Peace. The map was designed by Oliver Whiting in the year 1944 in London, England. The goal of the map is to show how connected the world’s countries have been and can be. The base map is a Mercator projection of the world, but that is not the interesting part. Included on the map are depictions of cultures, civilizations, scientific achievements, and various transportation routes between countries. At the top of the map sits a group of flags from some major countries, with the words, “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. Bound by a code of international friendship, law and order. United we stand – divided we fall.” The map puts forth the message that humanity is stronger when we are unified, and this unification will come through science. 

This argument – that science is Earth’s main connector – is front and center on the map. Towards the middle of the map, in the Atlantic Ocean, sits a compass. Alongside it is the phrase, “The march of science shrinks the earth.” This seems to be echoed through the other images on the map. There are boats in the Atlantic Ocean, such as the Queen Mary, with the caption “81,000 tons crossing – 4 days, 11 hours.” In West Africa there is a picture of a camel caravan with the description, “Caravans are older than civilization. They took three months to cross Africa. Today the same trip takes 13 hours.” This part was particularly intriguing to me. Africa sits in the exact center of the map. This is interesting because, in many maps that we have looked at, Africa has been an afterthought – oftentimes it is one of the main silences. It happens so often that, for a map made by a man from England, it felt almost expected that Africa would be forgotten. This is not to say, however, that there are no other issues with the map. The caricatures of both African and Asian civilizations are stereotypical, although they are not nearly as bad as some of the maps we’ve looked at. In the end, though, this map is similar to many others we have looked at – Europeans giving their perspective of the world. 

This map, despite being made in 1944, includes almost no reference to World War II. This is a pretty blatant silence of the map. The closest it gets is labeling Pearl Harbor, but there is no reference to the bombing. Almost all of Europe is ignored too. England has a couple of labels about their technological advancements, but that is it. The rest of Europe is left blank other than the labels of its countries. Having conflict being the main silence on a map about peace and unity makes sense, however, I was still surprised. Given that World War II was obviously the major world event at the time the map was made, I feel like there should be some sort of reference to it on the map. 

After writing the previous paragraph, I realized I was partially wrong. There are a couple of references to World War II, they are just tucked away on the edges of the map. This, to me, is pretty symbolic of the map in general. It has a lot going on, to the point where even though I had examined it pretty closely before I started writing, I still missed some stuff. On the far left side of the map, there is a circle with two tanks pointed at each other. Above and below them are the words, “A Broken Theory. Peace by balance of power, has always been broken.” On the other side of the map, surrounding symbols for World War I and World War II, are the words, “Another Exploded Theory: Security by Isolation.” These symbols feel a bit propaganda-y to me. The point of the map is promoting world unity, so downplaying current methods of peace, especially while in the middle of a World War, makes sense. However, Whiting’s opinions were probably swayed by the current events in the world. Furthermore, isolationism as a political practice was becoming substantially more difficult at this time. As the map points out, science is bringing everyone closer together; it is no longer easy, nor beneficial, for a country to isolate itself. This has only become more true over time. As I said before, in 1944, one could fly from any one country to another in forty hours or less, and – to answer my own question – the longest flight in the world today is roughly 18 hours and 30 minutes, New Jersey to Singapore.

Another interesting part of the map is how it displays levels of civilization. Across the very top of the map are depictions of different “units of peace”. It starts with a “Cave Man Family” and ends on the far right with “The Unity of All Nations.” Interestingly, the second to last unit is the “League of Nations”. This sends the message that humanity is one step away from world peace. This is a particularly bold argument to make considering that at the time this map was made, a second world war was being fought in Europe. This was a time when peace felt anything but close, and the fear of one’s enemies was constant. Despite how scientific advancements were effectively “shrinking” the Earth, it was not a time of unity when this map was made. 

The League of Nations was founded in 1920, after the conclusion of World War I. The goal of the League of Nations was to maintain world peace. It was the first multinational organization of its kind and it lasted until 1946, about a year after the United Nations came together. Therefore, it was in full swing when this map was made in 1944. Having the League of Nations be the second to last step, directly before “The Unity of All Nations”, sends a positive message about the future of the world. It feels very optimistic to send that message when a second world war is raging but, as it says along the top of the map, “The Unit of Peace has Grown Through the Ages, Tomorrow it Will Embrace the Whole Earth.”

 

Peace, Mercator. “Mercator Map Of The World United – Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center”. Collections.Leventhalmap.Org, 2021, https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:q524n371p. Accessed 5 Apr 2021.

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