Atlas Obscura looks at the cartographic work of early American educator Emma Willard, who in 1829 published a series of maps to accompany her History of United States, or Republic of America, a school textbook that came out the previous year. The book was an early example of a historical atlas: it was “the first book of its kind—the first atlas to present the evolution of America.”
Last week, Jimmy Kimmel Live had a skit where they asked passersby to name a country, any country, on a map of the world. The results were predictable—doofs who couldn’t name any country at all, or who thought Africa was a country—and so has been the general reaction. Americans not knowing their geography is a cliché that’s decades old at least. Thing is, the half-dozen or so people being shown aren’t a representative sample: the aim here isn’t a scientific survey, it’s good television. And laughing at idiots counts as good TV in America. In that vein, the kid going all Yakko’s World at the end is an absolutely necessary punchline. [Cartophilia]
Esri will be hosting a free, six-week massive open online course (MOOC) on cartography later this year. Called Cartography., it’s taught by Kenneth Field and coincides with the release of Field’s textbook of the same name.
Each weekly lesson in the Cartography. MOOC focuses on the creation of one exemplary map that draws together key cartographic ideas. Lessons consist of about two hours of content, including video discussions, guided and self-guided exercises using ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online, quizzes, interactions between students and instructors, and supplemental resources. Participants who engage with all the course content will receive a certificate of completion and a discount code to purchase Cartography., the book, should they wish to continue their learning.
Cartography., the book, is currently scheduled to come out in June.
Gerrymandering isn’t just about congressional districts. Earlier this month, Vox’s Alvin Chang explored how school district borders are drawn—and whether they simply reflect existing neighbourhood racial segregation, exacerbate it, or reduce it. Because they can do any one of these things. [Dave Smith]
I’ve mentioned Canadian Geographic’s giant floor maps, which are loaned out to schools and come with additional teaching materials, before (namely, the Vimy Ridge map). Now CTV News takes a look at another one of their maps, this one focusing on Canada’s political system and improving students’ “democratic literacy.” It’s called Route 338, and it’s a 10.7×7.9m (35′×26′) floor map of Canada showing the boundaries of its 338 federal electoral districts. Route 338 is a collaboration between Canadian Geographic Education and CPAC (the Canadian equivalent of C-SPAN). [CAG]
McMaster University’s Daily News has a piece on a large-scale map of Vimy Ridge—a World War I battle fought by Canadian troops that has since entered the national folklore—that reproduced from McMaster’s extensive collection of trench maps. The map, created by Canadian Geographic and 17 × 13 feet in size, is currently on display in the foyer of the university’s Mills Library, but it’s been on tour for at least the past year: the Vimy Ridge map is one of several giant floor maps produced by Canadian Geographic’s education division; each can be booked for a three-week loan period. [WMS]
So it turns out that the Children Map the World series, which collects entries from the Barbara Petchenik Children’s World Map Drawing Competition, is still a going concern: the fourth volume, which includes 50 maps drawn by children aged 5 to 15 for the 2015 competition plus another 50 maps from previous competitions, came out last month from Esri Press. Amazon. [Caitlin Dempsey]
April 19th: The day the Leventhal Map Center finally snapped.
Education news website The 74 has its own coverage of the Boston schools/Peters map controversy (is it safe to call it a controversy?), with extensive quotes from Matthew Edney, who does not mince words. (Comparing both projections to Comic Sans? Ouch.) [Caitlin Dempsey]
Previously: More on Boston Schools and the Peters Map; The Peters Map Is Fighting the Last War; The Peters Projection Comes to Boston’s Public Schools; In Defence of the Mercator Projection; How the Mercator Projection Won the Internet.
In late 2010 and early 2011, the Geospatial Revolution Project explored the use and impact of digital mapping through multimedia educational materials and a series of web videos. An associated online course, “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution,” launched in 2013 as a MOOC (massive open online course) via Coursera; more than 100,000 students signed up for it. Now, with changes to Coursera’s model, the instructor, Anthony C. Robinson, has made the course materials freely available for self-directed study. [GIS Lounge]
Atlas Obscura’s Cara Giaimo has an in-depth look at the reaction to the decision by Boston public schools to adopt the Peters projection in teaching materials. It’s well worth taking the time to read; the general gist from several cartographers and commentators is that swapping the Mercator for the Peters isn’t that much of an improvement. Though it includes comments from yours truly (I was in touch for this article), Giaimo talks to people who actually do know what they’re talking about, including Mark Monmonier (who, again, literally wrote the book on the Mercator projection) and Matthew Edney (who spoke to WZON 3 about this topic earlier).
Joshua Stevens, NASA’s data visualization and cartography lead:
(2/2) Are kids being taught that? If so, adopting any *1* projection is counter to learning why *many map projections exist & have purpose*
— Joshua Stevens (@jscarto) March 23, 2017
Also on Twitter, and to emphasize how long this has been going on, Jeremy Crampton notes his 1994 paper, “Cartography’s Defining Moment: The Peters Projection Controversy, 1974–1990.” A sequel may be required.
News of Boston public schools’ decision to go with the Peters projection has gone viral over the past week, and my teeth have not stopped itching. Largely because this is very much old news: Arno Peters began promoting “his” projection 44 years ago, and the Peters map has been making the rounds in certain circles ever since then. This is not new, and the media is showing its feckless streak in its lack of awareness of that fact. After all, the West Wing episode with the Peters map in it was broadcast 16 years ago.
The Gall-Peters projection is just one of several rectilinear equal-area projections; that Peters promoted it as a tool of social justice and anti-colonialism made it awfully appealing to people who are concerned with such issues. (They are not wrong to be concerned with such issues.) But cartographers have generally always been appalled by the projection, by Peters’s rhetoric and by his general ignorance of what had gone before. (Peters’s map had already been described by James Gall in 1885; the Mercator projection‘s insufficiencies as a wall map had long been known; and there were many other projections, from the Van der Grinten to the Mollweide to the Goode homolosine, that were already being used in the Mercator’s stead.)
(The Mercator projection, for its part, makes a crap wall map: its virtue is that rhumb lines—compass headings—are straight lines, making the Mercator ideal for navigation. It’s worth emphasizing that Mercator himself died in 1594. Again, see Monmonier’s book on the subject.)
Cartographers’ response to the Peters projection is essentially, usually (and correctly) that every map projection is a compromise, because every map projection is an attempt to represent a round planet on a flat surface. All maps, in other words, lie; or at least no map is exempt from lying; or at least the Mercator is no more a liar than any other projection. It’s essentially an effort in debunking—the tedious repetition of “well, actually” to a credulous audience that doesn’t care enough to listen all the way through. (And besides: the company selling the Peters map thoroughly agrees with them!)
For the latest examples of this, see Caitlin Dempsey’s piece on teaching context, and Andy Woodruff’s response to the latest round of this. They’re good pieces, worth reading—but I can’t help wonder whether something different needs to be tried. But then again: what problem are we trying to solve? Media and public credulity? The fact that the Peters projection, bluntly, sucks? The campaign—and it is a campaign—behind it?
But the campaign for the Peters map is increasingly irrelevant. In late 2015 I argued that the debate over the right projection for wall maps was the cartographic equivalent of fighting the last war. The Peters map was a 20th-century response to a 19th-century problem (the Mercator on wall maps) that had already largely been solved earlier in the century. Sure, there are still wall maps out there that use the projection (I’m looking in your direction, IKEA), but by and large it’s not used nearly as much as the Peters defenders would have you think.
But 21st-century mapmaking is not about wall maps: it’s about web maps. As I said in 2015:
Every online map service uses a variant of the Mercator projection called Web Mercator. Whatever its shortcomings—and there are many, owing to the fact that its calculations use a spherical Mercator model to save computational cycles—Web Mercator has become the de facto standard. And the size distortions at small scales that have made the Mercator projection the target of so much ire over the decades are simply moot for most use cases.
In many ways the past debates over the Mercator are moot: arguing over the right projection for wall-sized world maps—Mercator vs. Peters vs. Robinson—is fighting the last war. Mercator has become the default option for online mapmaking, simply because so many data visualization maps rely on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap for their base map layer. Other projections will be reserved for the professionals, people with access to more sophisticated mapmaking tools and the skill to use them, but for the most part, when data is mapped on the Internet, it’ll be mapped according to Mercator.
Zoom out in Google Maps or OpenStreetMap, and what do you see? The Mercator projection, with Greenland in all its inappropriately giant glory. (Apple Maps turns into a globe when you zoom out far enough, but Apple Maps are app-only.) The reason why this isn’t generally seen as a problem is that hardly anyone uses Google Maps as a world map: like topographic maps that use UTM, at close range Mercator works just fine.
While there are efforts under way to use other projections in web maps, it’s unlikely that the Mercator-vs.-Peters battle—a false dichotomy if there ever was one—will migrate to the digital arena.
In a development that just might make academic cartographers pull out their remaining hair in frustration, Boston’s public schools began using the Peters projection in social studies classes last week. The news coverage (see the Grauniad’s) is the usual straw man argument about the Mercator and the false dichotomy between it and the Peters, as though no other map projections have ever been used. (National Geographic has been using other projections since the 1920s, and currently uses the Winkel tripel. The last time I was at a map store, hardly any of the world maps for sale used the Mercator. See Mark Monmonier’s Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection, which I reviewed in 2008.)