Strange Maps

When I was younger I thought very long and hard about how the world would be different if the maps of the world were drawn the other way around. After all placing North on the top half of the globe is a completely arbitrary decision. On my map Australia and New Zealand as well as Brazil and Argentina along with the rest of South America would be in what is our North, whereas the US and Europe as well as Asia would be situated in the Southern hemisphere. Today you can find reversed maps online. Wikipedia seems a good starting point.

My questions went along these lines: Would the Europeans and Americans feel as superior as they do currently? Would the African countries South of the equator have developed better due to bigger self esteem? After all they would be on top! And: Who was the first to assign North to the top half of the globe? I suspect it was an arrogant European looking down on the rest of the world.

What remains is the strong feeling that the way the world is presented to us on maps in school and elsewhere has a lasting influence on the way we perceive it. Along the lines of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By: Metaphors help us structure the world. And some of the most basic ones are the correspondences of concepts. Up-down or top-bottom correspond with good-bad or winer-loser. And in our case of the reversed globe: First world-third world.

A wonderful example of how maps shape our understanding of concepts is Frank Jacobs’ Strange Maps blog. Some are only pencil sketches, some beautiful works of art. All of them are a great way of spending a few hours online without the feeling ofwasting your time.

Here are some of my favourites.

The Best of States, the Worst of States. Here you can learn that Texas has the highest wind power production in the US. Texas also has the most CO2 emissions. A Colorado citizen is most likely to die in an avalanche whereas Maine has the highest rate of esophageal cancer. My favourite fact of all, however, is Montana’s area of excellence: Apparently there they grow excessive amounts of organic lentils.

The Rock and Roll Map of Manhattan.

10:15 – “Viertel elf” oder “Viertel nach zehn“? Verteilung der Varianten im deutschsprachigen Raum. Nicht nur die Uhrzeiten, sondern auch Pantoffeln (oder Latschen? oder Puschen? oder gar Schlappen?) Einfach toll.

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