# Why Every World Map Is Wrong

The idea that the world maps are wrong â€” all of them â€” is hardÂ­ly conÂ­troÂ­verÂ­sial. Itâ€™s a mathÂ­eÂ­matÂ­iÂ­cal fact that turnÂ­ing a globe (or an oblate spherÂ­oid) into a two-dimenÂ­sionÂ­al object will result in unavoidÂ­able disÂ­torÂ­tions. In the TED-Ed lesÂ­son above by KayÂ­la Wolf, youâ€™ll learn a brief hisÂ­toÂ­ry of world maps, startÂ­ing all the way back with the Greek mathÂ­eÂ­matiÂ­cian PtoleÂ­my, who â€śsysÂ­temÂ­atÂ­iÂ­calÂ­ly mapped the Earth on a gridâ€ť in 150 AD in order to creÂ­ate maps that had a conÂ­sisÂ­tent scale. His grid sysÂ­tem is still in use today â€” 180 lines of latÂ­iÂ­tude and 360 lines of lonÂ­giÂ­tude.

Most of the world maps we knew come from the MerÂ­caÂ­tor ProÂ­jecÂ­tion, â€śa cylinÂ­driÂ­cal map proÂ­jecÂ­tion preÂ­sentÂ­ed by the FlemÂ­ish geoÂ­gÂ­raÂ­phÂ­er and carÂ­togÂ­raÂ­phÂ­er GerÂ­arÂ­dus MerÂ­caÂ­tor in 1569,â€ť writes Steven J. FletchÂ­er.

This map proÂ­jecÂ­tion is pracÂ­tiÂ­cal for nauÂ­tiÂ­cal appliÂ­caÂ­tions due to its abilÂ­iÂ­ty to repÂ­reÂ­sent lines of conÂ­stant course, known as rhumb lines, as straight segÂ­ments that conÂ­serve the angles with the meridÂ­iÂ­ansâ€¦. the MerÂ­caÂ­tor proÂ­jecÂ­tion disÂ­torts the size of objects as the latÂ­iÂ­tude increasÂ­es from the equaÂ­tor to the poles, where the scale becomes infiÂ­nite.

Mercatorâ€™s innoÂ­vaÂ­tion allowed for the shipÂ­ping routes that creÂ­atÂ­ed the modÂ­ern world (includÂ­ing those through the now-unblocked Suez Canal). But the proÂ­jecÂ­tion has its probÂ­lems: 14 GreenÂ­lands, for examÂ­ple, could fit inside the conÂ­tiÂ­nent of Africa, says Wolf, but â€śyou wouldnâ€™t guess it from most maps of the worldâ€ť  in which the two land massÂ­es are almost the same size.

â€śIn 2010,â€ť Adam TayÂ­lor notes at The WashÂ­ingÂ­ton Post, â€śgraphÂ­ic artist Kai Krause made a map to illusÂ­trate just how big the African conÂ­tiÂ­nent is. He found that he was able to fit the UnitÂ­ed States, India and much of Europe inside the outÂ­line of the African conÂ­tiÂ­nent.â€ť

GeoÂ­graphÂ­iÂ­cal misÂ­perÂ­cepÂ­tions â€śshape our underÂ­standÂ­ing of the world,â€ť Nick RoutÂ­ley writes at BusiÂ­ness InsidÂ­er, â€śand in an increasÂ­ingÂ­ly interÂ­conÂ­nectÂ­ed and globÂ­al econÂ­oÂ­my, this geoÂ­graphÂ­ic knowlÂ­edge is more imporÂ­tant than ever.â€ť We are no longer priÂ­marÂ­iÂ­ly using maps, that is to say, to chart, trade with, or conÂ­quer forÂ­merÂ­ly unknown regions of the world â€” from locaÂ­tions assumed to be the natÂ­urÂ­al cenÂ­ters of comÂ­merce, culÂ­ture, or reliÂ­gion.

Non-MerÂ­caÂ­tor world maps have, over the last few decades espeÂ­cialÂ­ly, attemptÂ­ed to corÂ­rect the errors of cylinÂ­driÂ­cal proÂ­jecÂ­tion by unfoldÂ­ing the globe like an orange peel or a series of interÂ­lockÂ­ing triÂ­anÂ­gles, as in BuckÂ­minÂ­ster Fullerâ€™s 1943 DymaxÂ­ion Map. These have proved nauÂ­tiÂ­cal miles more accuÂ­rate than preÂ­viÂ­ous verÂ­sions but they are useÂ­less in navÂ­iÂ­gatÂ­ing the world.

Why creÂ­ate new, more accuÂ­rate world maps? Because the MerÂ­caÂ­tor proÂ­jecÂ­tion has givÂ­en the impresÂ­sion of Euro-AmerÂ­iÂ­can geoÂ­graphÂ­iÂ­cal supremaÂ­cy for almost 500 years now, Wolfâ€™s lesÂ­son argues, simÂ­ply by virtue of the locaÂ­tion of its oriÂ­gin and its origÂ­iÂ­nal purÂ­pose. But it is now not only inacÂ­cuÂ­rate and outÂ­datÂ­ed, it is also irrelÂ­eÂ­vant. Maps play a vital role in eduÂ­caÂ­tion. The pracÂ­tiÂ­cal utilÂ­iÂ­ty, howÂ­evÂ­er, of flat world maps these days is pretÂ­ty much beside the point, since GPS techÂ­nolÂ­oÂ­gy has mostÂ­ly elimÂ­iÂ­natÂ­ed the need for them altoÂ­gethÂ­er.

RelatÂ­ed ConÂ­tent:

BuckÂ­minÂ­ster Fullerâ€™s Map of the World: The InnoÂ­vaÂ­tion that RevÂ­oÂ­luÂ­tionÂ­ized Map Design (1943)

JapanÂ­ese DesignÂ­ers May Have CreÂ­atÂ­ed the Most AccuÂ­rate Map of Our World: See the AuthaÂ­Graph

Why MakÂ­ing AccuÂ­rate World Maps Is MathÂ­eÂ­matÂ­iÂ­calÂ­ly ImposÂ­siÂ­ble

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, BabyÂ­lon, Rome, and the IslamÂ­ic World

DownÂ­load 67,000 HisÂ­toric Maps (in High ResÂ­oÂ­luÂ­tion) from the WonÂ­derÂ­ful David RumÂ­sey Map ColÂ­lecÂ­tion

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

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