Creating a map of the world presents a fundamental problem – how to turn the three-dimensional sphere of the Earth into a flat, two-dimensional image.
In 1569, the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator devised an elegant solution that became the standard world map for the next five centuries.
But his method resulted in massive distortions of the relative sizes of the continents, dramatically shrinking Africa and making Europe, North America and particularly Greenland look much bigger than they actually are. Antarctica appears to be the largest continent.
Now, for the first time, thousands of children in schools in the United States will use a very different map, the Gall-Peters projection.
About 600 school classrooms in Boston, Massachusetts, will receive a large laminated map that has come to symbolise efforts to correct the Western world’s distorted view of its own size.
A traditional Mercator projection map of the world, showing distortions the further away from the equator (Strebe)
Colin Rose, assistant superintendent in charge of the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps, told The Boston Globe the move was part of an attempt to “decolonise the curriculum”.
“So this is about maps, but it isn’t about maps,” Mr Rose said.
“It’s about a paradigm shift … we’ve had a very fixed view that is very Eurocentric. How do we talk about other viewpoints? This is a great jump-off point.”
Mark Greaves, lead consultant for geodesy – the maths of map-making – at the Ordinance Survey (OS) said any flat map of a globe was “always involves some compromise”.
“With the Mercator projection, it gained popularity because it was fairly simple to calculate and yes, you could navigate with it because the angles remain fairly true,” he told The Independent.
“If you’re on a ship … it’s fairly straight-forward to translate from the map to real-life and vice-versa.”
But this accuracy was…