What’s a Map Got to Do with Politics or Art Education?

In an increasingly visual world (i.e. a world in which more and more information is transmitted through images rather than through text), it is our job as art teachers to help students to analyze the ways in which visual perception shapes their perceptions of reality

Ever notice how on a typical world map Greenland is ridiculously enlarged? Did you realize that all of continental Europe and Great Britian are similarly oversized in relationship to southern hemisphere continents such as Africa and South America? What effect does this distortion about the relative size of countries and continents have on our understanding of the relative usage of world resources or the relative power of countries in determining the policy of the International Monetary Fund?

A Peter’s Projection Map shows the relative size of the world’s land masses in correct proportion. Hang a Peter’s map in your classroom and students are sure to say, “Hey, those continents aren’t shaped right!” What a teachable moment for discussing the problems of representing a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional plane or for exploring with students the ways in which maps effect our understanding of political and social as well as geographical phenomenon.

Another great teaching moment can be created by finding an “upside down map” or by hanging a regular map upside down. Students will invariably see this as incorrect and inaccurate. Many students are amazed by the recogniton that as there is no up or down in outer space there is no real reason why north should always be up and south should always be down. Why are maps typically drawn in this way? Why is most of the world debt owed by the “down” countries to the “up” countries? Does the symbolism of the traditional orientation of maps make this seem natural?

Sources for Peter’s Projection Map posters:

Syracuse Cultural Workers
Peters' Projection Map as seen on the TV show, The West Wing
This map contains a comparision of a standard and Peter’s projection along the bottom.

A site that sells question-and-answer card games and other materials to help businesses develop intercultural expertise in the workplace.

This site contains a thorough explanation of the significance of a Peter’s Projection compared to a standard projection.

See this site for Peters projection maps, postcards, and even refrigerator magnets. (No kidding.)

It’s also a source for an “upside down” map.

Available through this site are two books to help understand the significance of maps for our worldview.

A New View of the World
This booklet explains the origin, uses, and activities related to the Peters Projection. It includes answers to commonly asked questions about the Peters map, role play exercises, and discussions about ethnocentrism and the unconscious messages that maps send. 40 pages

Seeing Through Maps: The Power of Images to Shape Our World View
by Ward L. Kaiser and Denis Wood. This book looks closely at the images and messages of maps.