Take a look at the map above. After examining it for a few seconds, would you agree that North America is bigger than Africa, that the state of Alaska is larger than the country of Mexico, that China is smaller than Greenland? Well, what if I were to tell you that, in real life, Africa is three times bigger than North America, Mexico is larger than Alaska, and China is four times bigger than Greenland?
The map above is one of the most commonly used maps in Canada and the United States. It is known as the Mercator projection which is found anywhere from classrooms to boardrooms. Unfortunately, the Mercator projection map is not precisely accurate. It provides a distorted perception of the real size of continents and countries relative to each other. In 1596 the Mercator projection map was created merely for navigational purposes. The poles were enlarged and continent sizes were distorted to make crossing an ocean easier.
In 1974, Dr. Arno Peters created a new type of map that improves the accuracy of how we see the earth. He produced a map projection known as the Gall-Peter’s Projection, which he claims to be an area accurate map that displays the true size . The image below shows the Gall-Peters projection and will help you compare between the actual sizes of continents and countries.
Does size really matter?
I Believe that simple things, such as maps, can truly influence the perceptions individuals might have about certain countries. People usually equate the size of a country to importance and power. By exaggerating the size of western countries and under-sizing developing countries, in the Mercator projection, people further buy into the notion that developed countries are more important. Making developing countries look smaller than they are on a map portrays them as weak and helpless. Using a map that remains true to size is essential for success in the International Development fields, it can help the notion of equality spread further throughout the world, produce better research within the field, and place development issues, such as migration, further into perspective.
*** Keep in mind that, just like every other map projection, both the Mercator and Peters projections are not completely accurate. They both display various forms of distortion and are created to only serve certain objectives. The reason Peters projection was chosen for this blog is because it deals with the size of continents relevant to development.
Please let me know what you guys think. Do you strongly support one of these two projections? Do you believe that the size of a country can influence the way developing countries are perceived? Is there another projection that you find is more relevant to the field of International Development?