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UNIT 1: Maps, Time, and World History

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Cartographical Constructs

This segment uses historical maps to demonstrate that maps can be tools for understanding the worldviews of the people and societies that make them. The Mercator projection is a good example of this phenomenon. In 1569, Gerardus Mercator published his famous world map, which allowed mariners to plot distances more accurately. The Mercator is a "conformal" map projection, which means that it represents shapes much the way they appear on the globe, but it distorts relative size. One result of the Mercator projection was that its distorted portrayal of the northern hemisphere as much larger than it really is played into European notions about their importance in the world and in world history.

In 1974, a cartographer named Arno Peters published a projection meant to redress the Eurocentrism of the Mercator projection. This projection accurately represented the size of the world's landmasses, but it distorted their correct shapes.

Given the difficulties inherent in using a flat map to represent a sphere, neither the Mercator nor the Peters projection accurately portrays the world. They do, however, communicate distinct worldviews that influence our understanding of the world — and therefore shape our understanding of world history. For world historians, maps are both useful tools and historical artifacts that reveal how different cultures have understood the world.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, KOREAN KANGNIDO MAP (1402). Courtesy of Ryukoku University Library.

Anonymous, MAP OF AFRICA (c. 1900). Courtesy of Torrence Royer.


Hot Pepper Studios, created for Bridging World History, WORLD MAP ILLUSTRATING DISTORTION OF LAND SIZE USING MERCATOR PROJECTION (2004). Courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Hot Pepper Studios, created for Bridging World History, PETERS PROJECTION PHYSICAL WORLD MAP (2004). Courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.



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