The World I Know

If you are an 80’s baby and into American rock, you probably recognised the title of my blog as a song by Collective Soul.

“And I laugh to myself as the tears roll down

Cos it’s the world I know.”

Today I heard that the black rhino has been declared as extinct, last seen in west Africa in 2006. Following closely behind it is the white rhino which is dangerously endangered. What can I do but feel completely helpless about it? And to have a feeling that the smell of death courses through the lands quietly, stealthily, inevitably. It’s horrible to think that death doesn’t happen to individuals per se, but to entire species of living creatures, tribes, civilisations.

And speaking of Africa brings something else to mind.

I heard an interesting story back in time that the world map had been redesigned by first an obscure clergyman from Scotland, James Gall, in 1855. Then in 1967, a German historian Arno Peters – obviously oblivious to this initial finding – unveiled and promoted an identical map to Gall’s which he said is superior to the then widely used Mercator map, presumably because it was closer to the truth. Together, this map projection is called the Gall-Peters projection. It was a map that showed the real area size of the world.

Gall-Peters vs Mercator

This drew much controversy in that it had important political implications.

The Mercator map – which is the one that we many are used to – is calculated in such a way which inflates the sizes of nations the further they are away from the equator. And so Greenland looks slightly larger than Africa in that projection, when in reality, Africa is 14 times larger.

Hence it is said that the “usual” map (appropriate for seafaring purposes) presents nations seated further away from the equator (e.g. America and Europe) as visually larger and hence psychologically appears superior than the nations closer to the equator like India and Africa. This is based on calculations that the cartographer uses to present the map. If you look at the Mercator projection, it presents a view of a round earth if you look at it from space, and places the centre of the earth in Europe.

Incidentally, this enlightened those who supported social causes, who used it to visualise the third world in terms of size. This was supported by America’s National Council of Churches, Methodist and Lutheran circles.

The Gall-Peters projection lays the world on a flat ground, indicating the actual size and dimensions of the nations. It is quite a different view isn’t it?

Welcome to the world. It’s not what you think it is.

List of Map Projections


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