Why turning cards can teach us freedom | Culture, ATLAS

It has happened to everyone when they look at a geographical map of the world: concentrate on Greenland, the endless white land between Europe and North America that appears almost as extensive as Africa. However, not everyone is aware that the real dimensions of Greenland are similar to those of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone: ​​the real surface of the African continent is almost fifteen times larger than the Danish island. To blame Mercator, the pseudonym for Gerhard Kremer, who in 1569 published the most widespread cartographic projection of our planet today, would be outrageous. The Flemish geographer also ended up in prison for his scientific activity in the smell of heresy, and his work has had great advantages: beginning with the purpose – more or less achieved – to facilitate navigation while preserving the angles at which ships cut the meridians until the neologism introduction atlas (from the title of his collection of geographical maps Atlas; the image of Atlas in support of the world stood out on the editions of Mercator’s works).

Among its legacy, however, is the great distortion of the territories – they expand as one moves towards the poles – and also Europe’s resolute central position: in this way, as Piero Bianucci claims in Pilgrims in the universe (Solferino, 2022), “Western culture triumphed and dominated the planet, and the more developed countries benefited from it for historical and geopolitical reasons”. On the other hand, just as it is not possible to square the circle, it is similarly not possible to develop a sphere on a plane; this was demonstrated by the mathematician Gauss in 1821. The graphical representation of our planet, which in the ancient world had been the philosophical substance associated with cosmology (it is not surprising that many of the exact maps of the time, such as the astronomer’s maps). Eratosthenes, who already accounted for the Earth’s sphericity) became clear as a political issue in 1973, when the German Arno Peters presented his projection. Democratic, as it intended to respect the proportions between territories: every square centimeter of its map corresponded to an exact part of the country of just over 60,000 square kilometers. Culturally the daughter of the ’68 protests and decolonization, the card, which was originally a bestseller, was criticized because it was still distorting and too similar to the orthographic from Scotsman Gall from a century before to not scream plagiarism, and fell quickly. out of use.

Today, maps with Google Earth have a resolution on the order of centimeters, potentially approaching the theoretical 1: 1 scale that Borges and Umberto Eco envision as a literary exercise; minus the censorship of some countries that feel threatened by their security, has imposed more or less extensive censorship on the Mountain View giant. But the conceptual question remains: movements have been created to address the paradox by a tool created to help us orient ourselves in the world, but which risks crystallizing into a limiting and arbitrary thought. That’s what Australian Stuart McArthur, author of The Eighties of the Homonym, thought Universal corrective world map: he was tired of his American and Japanese friends’ teasing about the low position of his country, he overturned and moved his map, which shows the south at the top and Australia in the middle. His planisphere was incredibly successful in all countries of the southern hemisphere and represented the return to the forgotten tradition of not using the north as the only reference for short: many of the ancients had the east as a reference for the rising sun or south to facilitate navigation in it direction.

In recent times, during the same period when Piero Angela proposed MIUR (Ministry of Education) to adopt reverse maps in school classes to stimulate creativity and cartographer-artist Sabine Réthoré (on the front page her work The Mediterranean without Borders) suggested his short works without orientation, the genius was born in Italy Movement for the liberation of globes from their universal support to become local and democratic, at the instigation of Nicoletta Lanciano, Professor of Science Didactics at the University of Rome Sapienza. The didactic proposal consists in bringing the globe outdoors, homothetically oriented with its territory at the top: in this way the cardinal references lose their significance, and one can observe a model of our planet as it is exactly in that moment. “Our project has been translated into many languages, not primarily English – says Lanciano – and has been much discussed at conferences, especially in South America, where the method has become widespread. Here, the Mercator mismatch does not make much difference, but perceptions change greatly. for those living in South Africa or Patagonia.In New Zealand, for example, we have been told that many children have difficulty understanding how the sun rises in the sky.We pay particular attention to the aspect of equality and democracy that follows : The Nordic countries have imposed it on those who decided for everyone, but the astronauts teach us that our planet is a suspended sphere without top and bottom ».

Image: A detail of the card The Mediterranean without Borders by Sabine Réthoré. Credit: © Méditerranée Sans Frontières

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