Boston school district switches to a more accurate world map, blows kids' minds

Arguably he was; but in precisely the opposite of the way he always ends up accused of it.

You don’t do ‘imperialism’ by drawing the other guy’s continent really small and hurting his feelings; you do ‘imperialism’ by being able to project military force(and maintain supply lines); and then conquering and exploiting the other guy’s continent. A good navigational map is extremely handy for doing that.

As a tool for helping you do that, a Mercator projection is a fine candidate. As a tool for teaching geography, Mercator himself would likely be baffled by your choice(it’s not like he did work on sinusoidal projections because he thought that area was unimportant).


This projection looks good. The earth looks skinny.

Though I have to ask, did the kids not have access to a globe? I mean really, a globe is the BEST way to view the whole earth and see its relative sizes and positions. Period.

ETA - I just read the XKCD - yes I am very clever… :wink:


This. If the question is “how do I get from point A to point B by traveling along a constant heading” than the Mercator IS the best map to use. If you want to see the SHORTEST route between point A and Point B you could use a transverse Mercator where points A and B are on the "equator"
I’m not sure that people are as influenced by the area distortions in a Mercator map as is sometime assumed. Few think of Greenland as important as South America despite the fact that the apparent areas are similar. Nor do people assume that Antarctica is infinitly important.

A map with a large number of gores is probably better at representing any particular area within them, and reinforces the importance of recognizing the inherent inaccuracies of mapping a sphere onto a plane.


In my experience teaching them about this stuff, a pretty significant proportion of undergrads are at least unaware of the implications.


Globes certainly can’t be beaten for low-distortion representation; but crediting them with letting you ‘view the whole earth’ is overselling them.

You can choose whatever part of the earth you wish to view; but the entire opposite half of the globe is occluded; and the hemisphere you can see will be at a pretty sharp angle around the edges, so you tend to be stuck with rather less than half of the earth in useful view at any time. Plus, trying to get a measurement by keeping a tape measure behaving correctly against a curved surface is markedly more of a nuisance than using a ruler on a flat one.

For what a basic globe barely costs, it’s hard to argue with having one kicking around; but there’s a reason why maps get more attention.


The Peters projection isn’t the be all end all, but I’d much prefer that to a map that shows some little islands as bigger than Australia. Unless I had to find a great circle distance, in which case Peters would be about the last thing I’d use.

Google Earth is much more of a map than something showing just nation states. Even the 16th century cartographers tried to describe the people and natural resources of each area in as much detail as they could. Google Earth tries to get every feature that’s geotagged onto the map. Of course, it’s hard to put Google Earth on a wall poster, and not every school has computers.

Best part of the globe is how much booze you can hide in it.


Mercator designed one of his projections to preserve angles. He also designed a projection (now typically called the “Sinusoidal Projection”, Sanson-Flamsteed, or Mercator Equal Area Projection) that preserves areas, like the Gall-Peters projection.

The main problem is that the Sanson-Flamsteed projection is not rectangular, so it doesn’t work well as a poster in a classroom.

  1. Spin. Spin. Spin
  2. Trail fingers over spinning globe
  3. A little too much friction
  4. Fingers get pulled into the supporting arm
  5. Wailing and crying
  6. Begin again at 1. above

why oh why did they use Gall-Peter? the xkcd posted by @nimelennar aside the projection is one of the worst variants out there.

Mercator distorts the area, but in a predictable way

Peter-Gall distorts everything, with different ways in different regions


Isn’t the Henry Jones Red Line Projection the most accurate one for measuring distances?


I’m about fifteen years out of school, but… we don’t learn geography. We learn “social studies,” where geography is at best an adjunct to history and involves learning the names of places and maybe how to label countries on a map. I had one teacher mention map projections once in middle school, and who used a globe to talk about great circles. Other than that I doubt any of my history/social studies teachers even understood enough math/geometry to understand why it mattered, let alone explain it.

I would have loved it if a teacher had taken a few hours to teach map projections. “Here are different kinds of maps, why they’re different, and what each is good for. Also, remember how in 8th grade Earth Science you learned that people couldn’t measure longitude until they invented clocks that worked on ships? Well, here’s how GPS works, isn’t that neat?”


Both projections are imperfect, which is always going to be an issue when translating spherical to flat. Gall-Peters is useless when looking at Greenland or Siberia. And Africa is stretched vertically.
I do hate the politics that get injected into these issues. Once you make using your chosen projection about fighting oppression, then you have positioned the argument so that any discussion about other projections has be about wanting to oppress someone.


Regardless which projection, the thing that is always driven home when looking at such maps, is the latitude of Europe vs. the US. Like, England is level with northern Canada, Boston is level with Spain, Florida is level with west Africa.

Gawd help us if the northern Atlantic current that keeps Europe significantly warmer than it would otherwise be, stops cycling (e.g., due to melting of the Greenland ice sheet). Welcome to the new European ice age!


It’s going to be useless for understanding the “arctic gold rush.” The Mercator would be inappropriate, as well, but then again, it isn’t
being pushed as a latter day panacea.

That’s just good marketing on Arno Peters part.

Why not just use the winkel tripel?


Won’t both of those require a larger area to show the same level of detail just because they spread out the oceans more than a rectangular mapping? Also the dymaxion seems like a nightmare if you don’t have pretty good spatial reasoning trying to map that back to a globe seems tricky. Finally globe just takes up too much space in a classroom at a size that’d let the kids far away see any kind of detail, also it’s more expensive to make than just printing a map on the roll up charts used in classrooms now


I figured this would already be posted in a reply. I don’t like the Gall-Peters projection myself; while it gives a good idea of relative land mass, it distorts the shapes too much. Waterman Butterfly for me, or Pierce Quincuncial if you =must= have a quadrilateral.


I’m sure I heard that something called the “Midatlantic Pump” was already slowing down or had stopped. This was some part of the Gulf Stream. Of course, that might just have been Fake News. Sad.

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