Upside Down World Maps
April 18, 2003 11:27 PM   Subscribe

A fresh perspective on world maps. Francis Irving writes about his fascination with upside down maps, "It needn't be a Eurocentric world." Why haven't more upside down maps made their way into our daily life?
posted by ericrolph (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Putting the map upside-down doesn't make the map ``not Eurocentric.'' All putting the map upside-down does is violate a standard convention of mapping.

Making a map ``Eurocentric'' or not is basically a matter of where you put the dividing edge that joins the left and right sides of the map, if that makes any sense.

Most world maps have Europe near the center, but not because they're thereby asserting that Europeans are superior or that Europe is the Ourobouros or anything like that.

If you want to keep the American continents whole and keep Eurasia whole, that's going to mean either:

(1) Putting Europe in the middle, in which case people get upset about Eurocentrism, or
(2) Putting Europe way on the left/western side and the Americas way on the right/eastern side. That would also be bad, because that would clearly mean that the mapmakers were implying that the Americans were right, or correct, and so that projection would be unacceptably Amerophilic.

For lots of fun with map projections, check out this projection applet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:28 AM on April 19, 2003

Also, the maps cutting thru the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Pacific often has the unfortunate and unacceptable sideeffect of cutting right through Greenland!
posted by cx at 2:09 AM on April 19, 2003

Every single souvenir store in Australia has a rack full of upside-down world maps, with Oz front-and-center, where North America frequently is.

So, you know, it's part of their daily life.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:34 AM on April 19, 2003

North is south! South is north! Right is wrong! Damn those wily Europeans and their naming-places-according-to-their-location ways!

Apparently it's no longer kosher to call the Middle East the Middle East, except in a historical context. Now it's southwestern Asia, or some such thing. Damn Asia co-opting all the centricity.
posted by The God Complex at 2:55 AM on April 19, 2003

On a compass, north is up and south is down, right? The magnets need convincing, too.
posted by hama7 at 4:44 AM on April 19, 2003

Hama7: depends on which way you are facing.
posted by dydecker at 4:47 AM on April 19, 2003

I always thought the Peters projection was essential - it certainly made me realise how minute Britain is. This article has convinced me otherwise.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:04 AM on April 19, 2003

New perspectives are always a good idea, I think. I always liked the Fuller Projection map. I remember seeing a version that is cut up into triangular tiles that can be arranged to make an "anyone-centric" map--an excellent educational tool, by the way.
posted by jaronson at 8:12 AM on April 19, 2003

I thought I remembered reading that the Chinese used to put south at the top of their maps, but I can't seem to find a reference on the web offhand...
posted by gimonca at 9:51 AM on April 19, 2003

As a kid, I assumed that maps in the Southern hemisphere were South side up. I thought it was peculiar when I found this was not the case. Another reason to visit Oz.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2003

ROU_Xenophobe, there's North America centered maps, as well. In fact, IIRC, when I was an elementary school student, these were the type of world map we used in geography class.

I think (or thought) all countries centered their Mercator maps on their own country / land mass, and they have a good reason to: Mercator maps become very distorted as you reach the edges. Wouldn't it only make sense to ensure your own country looks "just right" on the map?
posted by shepd at 12:22 PM on April 19, 2003

shepd: that makes sense as far as it goes, but it's mostly a reason not to use the mercator projection.

An Americas-centered world map is bad to my eye because it splits up Eurasia. Seems better to split one of the oceans instead, unless you want an oceanographic map.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:35 PM on April 19, 2003

1) Old European maps (the "T" projection) places Jerusalem in the center, and East at the top. This was convention basically until the 15/16th century.
2) I fail to see how the modern Mercator projection is "racist". There are basically 2 popular styles of projection - one shows 2/3 of the map above the equator and 1/3 below, the other split 50/50. The 2/3 projection was popular because the majority of landmass (nearly all of Asia and much of Africa inclusive) is north of the Equator. The 50/50 map is a better projection of what Earth really looks like, and indeed it is "centered" on the Gulf of Africa south of the Ivory Coast. It's definitely not centered on Europe, though Peters has managed to convince people that that is the case.
3) Interestingly, many of my older atlases show world maps in a two-hemisphere division - 2 circles of the same size.
4) The Mercator was mainly used because it doesn't distort shipping direction, if I remember correctly. It wasn't a bias toward the most Northerly and Southerly nations, but a simple necessity of shipping.
5) The orange peel projection, not the Peters, is the truly most accurate projection in size and shape, but you do have to get rid of a lot of the oceans.
posted by Kevs at 3:15 PM on April 19, 2003

The Mercator Projection is angle preserving - you can measure angles on it and transfer them to the real world. Useful if you happen to be on a boat exploring places. The people who made most of these maps were from Europe. Hence, European centered maps with an angle preserving bias.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 3:57 PM on April 19, 2003

Everything is relative. Who's to say "north" isn't really east-southeast? No map is accurate - it's only a snapshot in time of where you happen to look. David Hockney shows us that in photos.

Seeing Through Maps is an interesting execise in exploring why we have/need maps in the first place. It's as much a social & psychological creation as a navigational one. How many times have you drawn a map to the party on a cocktail napkin, for example? BTW, Denis Wood (co-author) is a former school of design prof @ NCSU.
posted by yoga at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2003

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