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Map Projections & Their Effects on Perceptions in the Study of World History Ms. Patricia Cutaia White Plains H. S. White Plains, NY
Ms. Patricia Cutaia
White Plains H. S. White Plains, NY
Medieval European T-O Map. In medieval Europe one of the most common forms of rendering the earth was the mappae mundi of which more than a thousand have survived. The T-O map is one kind of mappae mundi. The T-O image reproduced here comes from the encyclopedia of knowledge produced by Isidore, Bishop of Seville, in 630 A.D., and was printed in Augsburg in 1472.
The Maya Cosmos. Adopted with modifications from Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (N.Y.: William Morrow, 1990), p. 67, fig. 2:1. Drawing by Linda Schele, courtesy Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (permissions Nov. 7, 2002).
An ancient map that strongly suggests Chinese sailors were first to round the world. It seems more likely
that the world and all its continents were discovered by a Chinese admiral named Zheng He, whose fleets
roamed the oceans between 1405 and 1435. His exploits, which are well documented in Chinese historical
records, were written about in a book which appeared in China around 1418 called "The Marvellous Visions
of the Star Raft". One of Zheng He's fleet's adventures, blown off course to the east to the New World,
provides a fascinating thread in Neil Stephenson's fabulous fiction, Cryptonomicon. It is a copy, made in
1763, of a map, dated 1418, which contains notes that substantially match the descriptions in the book .
Each fleet would have at least one "Treasure ship", used by the commander of the fleet and his deputies
(nine-masted, about 120 meters (400 ft) long and 50 m (160 ft) wide).
The greatest "inventor" of sixteenth century Europe was map maker Gerhardus Mercator whose 1569 summary map, publicized by the learned Richard Hakluyt in his Principal Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation (London: 1589), liberated cartography from dependence on Ptolemy, and included a projection that allowed navigators to understand the coasts of the New World.
These maps silently promoted a Eurocentric view that privileged the Western image. Generations of European and American students have been indoctrinated with the glories of nationalism and colonialism through this map.
A modern modification of the Mercator projection is Miller's cylindrical projection that decreases the amount of distortion in the high latitudes while setting the earth's surface on a rectangular grid. If the map is cut to place the center along the Prime Meridian, the result is a Eurocentric map useful for many purposes but not the only way to view the world.
Miller World Map Centered Along 90th West Meridian . It projects an American perspective on the world. Note how the three major countries of North America, the United States, Canada, and Mexico, face both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while in South America only Colombia has a two-ocean perspective. Obviously, the two oceans have affected the history of North America more than South America, where Chile and Peru are Pacific-oriented countries while Brazil is an Atlantic-oriented nation. The Arctic circle is mostly filled with land, with only a sea gap between Scandinavia and Iceland. Certainly Norsemen and Vikings would note this feature. When viewing this map it is easy to see that the location of South America is to the east of North America.
If one rearranges the map to show a Brazilian perspective, it becomes obvious that Brazil has no frontage on the Pacific Ocean, is bordered in the west by the Andes, and is strictly an Atlantic Basin country. The equator intersects Brazil at the Amazon and Africa between Nigeria and Angola, with Brazil being closer in nautical miles to Europe and Africa than most of North America. With seventy percent of Brazil's 172.8 million people clustered near the Atlantic coast, it is no wonder that it has been more influenced by Europe (e.g., the national language is Portuguese) and Africa (a multiracial population in which African influences dominate music and religion) than North America. Again, the bulk of African slaves imported into the New World in the eighteenth century went to Brazil, a feature of the relative closeness of the equatorial region of Brazil to a similar climatic zone in Angola and West Africa.
Adopted with permission from D.W. Meining, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History. Volume 1, Atlantic America, 1492–1800 (Yale University Press, 1986), p. 56
North America appears to be more involved in the Pacific Basin than South America (its eastward location pulling it toward the Atlantic). Finally, this map reveals a major truth about the earth, and that is that the earth is mostly water not land, the Pacific Ocean amounting to 64,000,000 square miles (over twice the size of the Atlantic Ocean).
Miller World Map Centered on 180 Meridian: The Pacific Perspective. South is at top of map. After 1850, a Pacific perspective must be added. With the United States acquiring Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii (and taking possession of the Philippines), followed by Pearl Harbor and the Pacific theater of World War II, the strategic importance of the Pacific for the United States becomes obvious. With China emerging as a major power, the twenty-first century may become the Pacific century.
The Peters Projection Map from Two Perspectives: In 1974, as an effort to reduce the political bias of conventional maps, Arno Peters created the 'Peters Projection' of the world so that one square inch anywhere on the map represents an equal number of square miles of the earth's surface.
Which map projection does the College Board use in their WHAP materials?