We recently hung up a new world map at our house, and it’s kind of freaking me out. It’s the Peters Projection Map, and it alters the traditional shape of landmasses to more accurately render their relative size, or so they say.
The traditional map that we’re used to (and generally hangs in classrooms) is known as the Mercator map. Created in 1569 by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, it was well-suited for nautical navigation, and it became the standard representation of the world.
The Peters Projection map, on the other hand, was created by German historian Arno Peters and first presented in 1973. Peters’ map—based on a projection by clergyman James Gall from 1855—attempts to more accurately portray areas of equal size and promote fairness to people from all corners of the globe.
Peters’ map people contend that the Mercator map distorts the size of landmasses as they get closer to the poles and that it depicts the Northern Hemisphere much larger than it truly is. For example, Greenland and Africa appear to be about equal size on the Mercator map, but in reality, Africa is about 14 times larger than Greenland, as depicted on the Peters Projection map.
What do you think of Peters’ map? Would you use this map in class? What about the questions (and discussions) it raises about the perception of the world? What if it were turned upside-down?
Editor’s note (2021): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.