# The “True Size” Maps Shows You the Real Size of Every Country (and Will Change Your Mental Picture of the World)

We all understand, on some level, that as adults we must go back and correct the oversimplifications we learned as schoolchildren. But for a sense of how large the scale of those quasi-truths, you must imagine the whole world: that is, you must imagine how you imagine the whole world, a mental picture probably taken straight from the map hung on the classroom wall. And the lines of that map came straight, in a sense, from the work of 16th-century cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

Though Mercator's world-mapping method came as a revolution, it has also given generation after generation after generation very much the wrong idea about how big the world's countries actually are. Mercator Projection, as Citymetric describes it, "re-imagines the earth as the surface of a cylinder.

When laid out flat, it’s pleasingly rectangular, and its eastern and western edges line up neatly." But while "in reality, lines of longitude converge at the poles; on the map, they're parallel. As a result, the closer you get to the poles, the more distorted the map becomes, and the bigger things look relative to their actual size."

Hence the need for such re-imaginings of the world map as The True Size, "a website that lets you compare the size of any nation or US state to other land masses, by allowing you to move them around to anywhere else on the map." Just search for any country in the box in the map's upper-left corner, and that country's borders will appear highlighted in color. When you click and drag those borders to another part of the world, specifically a part of the world at a different latitude, you'll notice that the shape of the dragged country seems to deform.

But that appearance of distortion is only relative to the shapes and sizes we've long internalized from the Mercator map: when you move Australia up and it covers a third of Russia, or when you move the vast-looking Greenland down and it doesn't even cover Argentina, you're looking — perhaps for the first time — at a geographically accurate size comparison. Does that (to quote the humorless representative of the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality in the West Wing episode cited as one inspiration for the True Size Map) blow your mind?

Explore the True Size Map here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

# Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As mentioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teaching her first online course through Masterclass. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pillars of her lifelong work: environmental conservation, animal intelligence, and activism. But that's not the only way you can digitally engage with Jane Goodall's world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visual journey through Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall conducted her historic chimpanzee research, starting back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visual initiative lets you experience "what it’s like to be Jane for a day." You can "peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tanganyika, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glitter and Gossamer." Completed in partnership with Tanzania's National Parks and the Jane Goodall Institute, this project contributes to an effort to use satellite imagery and mapping to protect 85 percent of the remaining chimpanzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, visit the accompanying website Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Related Content:

Dr. Jane Goodall Is Now Teaching an Online Course on Conservation, Animal Intelligence & Activism

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# 1934 Map Resizes the World to Show Which Country Drinks the Most Tea

Not a day goes by that I don’t use Google Maps for something or other, whether it’s basic navigation, researching an address, or finding a dry cleaner. Though some of us might resent the dominance such mapping technology has over our daily interactions, there’s no denying its endless utility. But maps can be so much more than useful tools for getting around—they are works of art, thought experiments, imaginative flights of fancy, and data visualization tools, to name but a few of their overlapping functions. For the imperialists of previous ages, maps displayed a mastery of the world, whether cataloguing travel times from London to everywhere else on the globe, or—as in the example we have here—resizing countries according to how much tea their people drank.

But this is not a map we should look to for accuracy. Like many such cartographic data charts, it promotes a particular agenda. “George Orwell once wrote that tea was one of the mainstays of civilization,” notes Jack Goodman at Atlas Obscura. “Tea, asserted Orwell, has the power to make one feel braver, wiser, and more optimistic. The man spoke for a nation.” (And he spoke to a nation in a 1946 Evening Standard essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”) From the map above, titled “The Tea is Drunk” and published by Fortune Magazine in 1934, we learn, writes Goodman, that “Britain consumed 485,000 pounds of tea per year. That’s one hundred billion cups of tea, or around six cups a day for each person.” We might note however, that “the population of China was then nine times bigger than that of the U.K., and they drank roughly twice as much tea as the Brits did.” Why isn’t China at the center of the map? “The author made a tenuous point about the cultural differences between the two: the Chinese drank tea as a necessity, the British by choice.”

Cornell University library’s description of the map is more forthright: “While China actually consumed twice as much tea as Britain, its position at the edge of the map assured that the focus will be on the British Isles.” That focus is commercial in nature, meant to encourage and inform British tea merchants for whom tea was more than a beverage; it was one of the nation's pre-eminent commodities, though most of what was sold as a national product was Indian tea grown in India. Yet the map brims with pride in the British tea trade. “Thus may be told the geography and allegiance of Tea,” its author proclaims, “an empire within an empire, whose borders follow everywhere the scattered territories of that nation on which the sun never sets.” A little over a decade later, India won its independence, and the empire began to fall apart. But the British never lost their taste for or their national pride in tea. View and download a high-resolution scan of the "Tea is Drunk" map at the Cornell Library site.

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Colorful Maps from 1914 and 2016 Show How Planes & Trains Have Made the World Smaller and Travel Times Quicker

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

# Colorful Maps from 1914 and 2016 Show How Planes & Trains Have Made the World Smaller and Travel Times Quicker

This time of year especially, we complain about the greed and arrogance of airlines, the confusion and inefficiency of airports, and the sardine seating of coach. But we don’t have to go back very far to get a sense of just how truly painful long-distance travel used to be. Just step back a hundred years or so when—unless you were a WWI pilot—you traveled by train or by ship, where all sorts of misadventures might befall you, and where a journey that might now take several dull hours could take several dozen, often very uncomfortable, days. Before railroads crossed the continents, that number could run into the hundreds.

In the early 1840s, for example, notes Simon Willis at The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, “an American dry-goods merchant called Asa Whitney, who lived near New York, travelled to China on business. It took 153 days, which he thought was a waste of time.” It’s probably easier to swallow platitudes about destinations and journeys when the journey doesn’t take up nearly half the year and run the risk of cholera. By 1914, the explosion of railroads had reduced travel times considerably, but they remained at what we would consider intolerable lengths.

We can see just how long it took to get from place to place in the “isochronic map” above (view it in a large format here), which visualizes distances all over the globe. The railways “were well-established,” notes Gizmodo, “in Europe and the U.S., too, making travel far more swift than it had been in the past.” One could reach “the depths of Siberia” from London in under ten days, thanks to the Trans-Siberian Railway. By contrast, in Africa and South America, “any travel inland from the coast took weeks.”

The map, created by royal cartographer John G. Bartholomew, came packaged with several other such tools in An Atlas of Economic Geography, a book, Willis explains, “intended for schoolboys,” containing “everything a thrusting young entrepreneur, imperialist, trader or traveller could need.” All of the distances are measured in “days from London,” and color-coded in the legend below. Dark green areas, such as Sudan, much of Brazil, inland Australia, or Tibet might take over 40 days travel to reach. All of Western Europe is accessible, the map promises, within five days, as are parts of the east coast of the U.S., with parts further Midwest taking up to 10 days to reach.

What might have seemed like wizardry to Walter Raleigh probably sounds like hell on earth to business class denizens everywhere. How do these journeys compare to the current age of rapid air travel? Rome2rio, a “comprehensive global trip planner,” aimed to find out by recreating Bartholomew’s map, updated to 2016 standards. You can see, just above (or expanded here), the same view of the world from its onetime imperialist center, London, with the same color-coded legend below, “Distances in Days from London.” And yet here, a journey to most places will take less than a day, with certain outer reaches—Siberia, Greenland, the Arctic Circle, stretching into two, maybe three.

Should we have reason to complain, when those of us who do travel—or who must—have it so easy compared to the danger, boredom, and general unpleasantness of long-distance travel even one-hundred years ago? The question presumes humans are capable of not complaining about travel. Such complaint may form the basis of an ancient literary tradition, when heroes ventured over vast terrain, slaying monsters, solving riddles, making friends, lovers, and enemies…. The epic dimensions of historic travel can seem quaint compared to the sterile tedium of airport terminals. But just maybe—as in those long sea and railway voyages that could span several months—we can discover a kind of romance amidst the queasy food courts, tacky gift shops, and motorized moving walkways.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

# An Interactive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Arriving in a new city usually means finding the nearest decent grocery, pharmacy, coffee shop, bookstore, laundry, etc. And before nearly every musical whim could be satisfied with a few clicks, it also meant for many people finding the nearest record store. Even the local strip mall chain might hold a surprise or two. But the true finds appeared among the small proprietors, merchandisers of dusty LPs in wooden bins and keepers of local music scene lore. Entering a well-curated music shop can feel like walking into a medieval apothecary. Whatever ails you, you’re sure to find a remedy here. If it doesn’t work, there remains a certain magic in the transaction. We continue to believe in music even when it lets us down.

But have we lost faith in the record shop? I hope not. Online streaming and buying has the regrettable effect of flattening everything into the same two dimensions without the aura of physical media and the musical paraphernalia we find in real life stores. Should you be among the unlucky who lack a local music store, fear not.

You can recover the romance by traveling to any one of the thousands of shops worldwide that are catalogued and mapped on VinylHub, a crowd-sourced “endeavor,” Ron Kretsch writes at Dangerous Minds, "to create an interactive map of every brick-and-mortar record store on Earth, a perfect resource for the world-traveling vinyl obsessive.”

Brought to us by masterminds behind Discogs and their similar spin-off online catalogs for books, movies, etc., this project might get us out of our chairs—maybe even out of the country—and into new places to dig through the crates. But even if we’re not inclined to leave the house, VinylHub offers a wealth of fascinating information. “The single city with the largest density of shops,” we learn, “is Tokyo,” though “had you asked me,” Kretsch writes, “I’d have probably said London.” I’d have guessed New York, which comes in at a surprising 7th place.

The most remote record store on Earth is a cluster of CD stalls above a produce market in the tiny Pacific Island Kingdom of Tonga, but Vinyl Run, located on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, sure looks like a contender. The northernmost is in Alta, Norway; the southernmost is in Invercargill, New Zealand.

The UK is currently second in number of shops by country: 537, with .8443 shops per 100,000 inhabitants. The United States at number one has almost triple that number, but also over five times the population. These figures are provisional. Much of the world remains uncharted—at least as far as record shops are concerned—and Discogs members continue to submit new entries. Should you find a blank spot on the map that needs a little record icon, you can join for free and contribute to the VinylHub community. While there’s nothing like a trip to a new music store, even if you’re only in it for the data, you’ll find much here to inspire.

Over at the Discogs blog, we learn several more facts, such as the two shops that are farthest apart (Madrid’s Citadel Records and Star Second-Hand Book-Music in Palmerston North, New Zealand: 19,978 km) and the location of that most remote shop (the market in Nuku’alofa in Tonga, address: “Upstairs of wet market”). VinylHub’s “Explorer” map utilizes Google Maps features to give you unlimited access to every region in the world. Zoom in to see the numbers by city and the individual locations of each and every shop in the database. You can even find record stores listed in Pyongyang—or rather record sections of several hotel bookshops. I wouldn't necessarily recommend making the trip, but it’s interesting to imagine what odd treasures we might find there—or at any of the other several thousand shops from around the world.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

# Interactive Map Lets You Take a Literary Journey Through the Historic Monuments of Rome

Arches on arches! as it were that Rome,

Collecting the chief trophies of her line,

Would build up all her triumphs in one dome,

Her Coliseum stands; the moonbeams shine

As 'twere its natural torches, for divine

Should be the light which streams here, to illume

This long-explored but still exhaustless mine

Of contemplation; and the azure gloom

Of an Italian night, where the deep skies assume

Hues which have words, and speak to ye of heaven,

Floats o'er this vast and wondrous monument,

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818)

A modern visitor to Rome, drawn to the Coliseum on a moonlit night, is unlikely to be so bewitched, sandwiched between his or her fellow tourists and an army of vendors aggressively peddling light-up whirligigs, knock off designer scarves, and acrylic columns etched with the Eternal City’s must-see attractions.

These days, your best bet for touring Rome’s best known landmarks in peace may be an interactive map, compliments of the Morgan Library and Museum. Based on Paul-Marie Letarouilly’s picturesque 1841 city plan, each digital pin can be expanded to reveal descriptions by nineteenth-century authors and side-by-side, then-and-now comparisons of the featured monuments.

The enduring popularity of the film Three Coins in the Fountain, coupled with the invention of the selfie stick has turned the area around the Trevi Fountain into a pickpocket’s dream and a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare.

Not so in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s day, though unlike Lord Byron, he cultivated a cool remove, at least at first:

They and the rest of the party descended some steps to the water’s brim, and, after a sip or two, stood gazing at the absurd design of the fountain, where some sculptor of Bernini’s school had gone absolutely mad in marble. It was a great palace-front, with niches and many bas-reliefs, out of which looked Agrippa’s legendary virgin, and several of the allegoric sisterhood; while, at the base, appeared Neptune, with his floundering steeds and Tritons blowing their horns about him, and twenty other artificial fantasies, which the calm moonlight soothed into better taste than was native to them. And, after all, it was as magnificent a piece of work as ever human skill contrived. At the foot of the palatial façade was strown, with careful art and ordered irregularity, a broad and broken heap of massive rock, looking as if it might have lain there since the deluge. Over a central precipice fell the water, in a semicircular cascade; and from a hundred crevices, on all sides, snowy jets gushed up, and streams spouted out of the mouths and nostrils of stone monsters, and fell in glistening drops; while other rivulets, that had run wild, came leaping from one rude step to another, over stones that were mossy, slimy, and green with sedge, because in a century of their wild play, Nature had adopted the Fountain of Trevi, with all its elaborate devices, for her own.

The human statues garbed as gladiators and charioteers spend hours in the blazing sun at the foot of the Spanish Stepsthe heirs to the artists and models who populated William Wetmore Story’s Roba di Roma:

All day long, these steps are flooded with sunshine in which, stretched at length, or gathered in picturesque groups, models of every age and both sexes bask away the hours when they are free from employment in the studios. ... Sometimes a group of artists, passing by, will pause and steadily examine one of these models, turn him about, pose him, point out his defects and excellences, give him a baiocco, and pass on. It is, in fact, a models’ exchange.

The Medici Villa houses the Académie de France, and its gardens remain a pleasant respite, even in 2017. Visitors who aren’t wholly consumed with finding a wifi signal may find themselves fantasizing about a different life, much as Henry James did in his Italian Hours:

Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks—dwarfs playing with each other at being giants—and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid West! ... I should name for my own first wish that one didn’t have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades?...What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.

The interactive map was created to accompany the Morgan’s 2016 exhibition City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics. Other pitstops include St. Peter’s, the Roman Forum, and The Equestrian Monument of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol. Begin your explorations here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

# The 38 States of America: Geography Professor Creates a Bold Modern Map of America (1973)

Unless you belong to an older generation, you probably can't remember the last time the map of the United States underwent any major change. For decades, the boundaries have remained pretty fixed. And yet the map, as we know it, shouldn't necessarily be considered set in stone.

If billionaire Tim Draper has his way, California voters will decide in 2018 whether California, the home to nearly 40 million people, should be divided into three states called "Northern California," "Southern California," and plain "California." His argument being that California has become too large to govern, and that power should be moved toward smaller, more locally governed entities. Meanwhile, on a parallel track, another group is pushing for California to leave the union altogether. Right there, we have two initiatives that could change the map as we know it.

And then there was the time when, back in 1973, George Etzel Pearcy, a California State University geography professor, proposed re-drawing the map of the nation, reducing the number of states to 38, and giving each state a different name. In his creative reworking of things, California would be split into two states--"El Dorado" and "San Gabriel". Texas would divide into "Alamo" and also "Shawnee" (along with remnants of Oklahoma). And the Dakotas would fuse into one big "Dakota." In case you're wondering, Pearcy chose the names by polling geography students.

The logic behind the new map was explained in a 1975 edition of The People's Almanac.

Why the need for a new map? Pearcy states that many of the early surveys that drew up our boundaries were done while the areas were scarcely populated. Thus, it was convenient to determine boundaries by using the land's physical features, such as rivers and mountain ranges, or by using a simple system of latitude and longitude.... The practicality of old established State lines is questionable in light of America's ever-growing cities and the increasing mobility of its citizens. Metropolitan New York, for example, stretches into 2 adjacent States. Other city populations which cross State lines are Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City. The "straddling" of State lines causes economic and political problems. Who should pay for a rapid transit system in St. Louis? Only those citizens within the boundaries of Missouri, or all residents of St. Louis's metropolitan area, including those who reach over into the State of Illinois?...

When Pearcy realigned the U.S., he gave high priority to population density, location of cities, lines of transportation, land relief, and size and shape of individual States.  Whenever possible lines are located in less populated areas. In the West, the desert, semidesert, or mountainous areas provided an easy method for division. In the East, however, where areas of scarce population are harder to determine, Pearcy drew lines "trying to avoid the thicker clusters of settlement."  Each major city which fell into the "straddling" category is neatly tucked within the boundaries of a new State. Pearcy tried to place a major metropolitan area in the center of each State. St. Louis is in the center of the State of Osage, Chicago is centered in the State of Dearborn. When this method proved impossible, as with coastal Los Angeles, the city is still located so as to be easily accessible from all parts of the State...

According to Rob Lammle, writing in Mental Floss, Pearcy initially got support from "economists, geographers, and even a few politicians." But the proposal--mainly outlined in a book called A 38 State U.S.A.--eventually withered in Washington, the place where ideas, both good and bad, go to die.

Below you can watch an animation showing how US map has changed in 200 years.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Related Content:

Free: National Geographic Lets You Download Thousands of Maps from the United States Geological Survey

Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

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New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

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