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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Japan­ese Design­ers May Have Cre­at­ed the Most Accu­rate Map of Our World: See the Autha­Graph

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Now Free Online

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

Why Mak­ing Accu­rate World Maps Is Math­e­mat­i­cal­ly Impos­si­ble

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

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.

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