Students at public schools in Boston, Massachusetts, will soon be looking at the world in a new way. Social studies teachers there will be using a new type of map that shows the world’s continents in slightly different sizes and positions than we usually see them.
Most of us use maps based on one created by Gerardus Mercator, in 1569. Mercator’s map was designed to help European sailors make their way across the oceans. The sea routes are correct, but some of the land areas–the countries and continents–shown on the map are not.
For example, on Mercator maps, South America and Europe appear to be about the same size. But in reality, South America is actually almost twice as big as Mercator drew it.
Also, Greenland and Africa look the same size on the Mercator map. But in reality, Africa is actually 14 times larger than Greenland.
Many people think that these mistakes make places in the northern half of the world–like Europe and North America–look more important than places in the southern hemisphere–like Africa and South America.
The schools in Boston say they want their students to have a more accurate view of the world. That’s why they are introducing new maps into their classrooms.
These new maps were designed in the 19th century by James Gall, a Scottish mapmaker. They were published by a German historian, Arno Peters, in 1974.
The Gall-Peters map is not perfect. The shapes of some of the continents are a bit wrong, but their sizes and positions are more accurate. Boston schools will use both maps, so students can see the differences.
Making a flat map of the whole Earth–which is, of course, round–is very difficult. The best way to see the size and position of the continents is on a globe.
Of course, many people besides Mercator and Gall-Peters have drawn maps of the world. Check out this gallery of various world maps.
Watch this terrific, one-minute National Geographic video showing why it’s so hard to get an accurate flat map of a round surface. (1:10).
By Kathleen Tilly
It is likely that the map you use in your classroom is based on the map created by Gerardus Mercator in 1569. Look at the Mercator map and then compare it to the map that is going to be used in Boston schools, which was created by James Gall. How are the maps similar and how do they differ?
Reading Prompt: Point of View
The National Geographic video in the “related links” section demonstrates how various maps can show different points of view. For example, a map that focuses on oceans looks entirely different than one that places Australia at the centre.
After watching the video, select two different maps and explain how their points of view are different.
Identify the point of view presented in texts, ask questions to identify missing or possible alternative points of view, and suggest some possible alternative perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).
Identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).
Language Feature: Synonyms
A mapmaker is someone who makes maps. Similarly, a cartographer also makes maps. These two words – mapmaker and cartographer – are synonyms because they are different words but they have the same meaning.
Think of a synonym for the following professions:
4. shoe maker