North by North

Harding, Sandra, and Nile, Richard (2017) North by North. M/C Journal, 20 (6).

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[Extract] Seven centuries of cartographic convention has placed north at the top of maps, and by logical extension at the top of the world. This convention has been closely aligned with another, known as the Mercator projection. Devised by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1659, this system of map-making has been uncritically handed down through the centuries to the present time and continues to be the cartographic standard in many parts of the world. Mercator’s projection not only points northward but exaggerates northern landmasses at the expense of the south. For example, it magnifies Greenland to be approximately the same size as Africa, which is actually fourteen times larger.

The Greenland example is one of many northern amplifications and conceits that belittle the south. The specific contrast with Africa was presented with deadpan humour and devastating effect in a 2012 episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. Cartographers for Social Equity lobby President Bartlet’s White House to withdraw all Mercator maps from US schools and replace them with Gall-Peters maps.

The Gall-Peters projection represents with greater fidelity and accuracy the relative proportions of the world’s landmasses. The Cartographers for Social Equity fail in their representation but, coincidental or not, five years after the screening of The West Wing episode Gall-Peters maps began to be phased in at schools in two American states.

North and south are cardinal directions and polar opposites that refer to exact locations at either end of the globe. Within ice-bound regions, the North Pole defines the Arctic, an old term derived from Latin and Greek to mean north. By contrast, its antithesis—the Antarctic—is a negative term that means opposite to north. It is defined by the South Pole. This linguistic preference suggests that north is the one while south is the other.

Item ID: 53842
Item Type: Article (Editorial)
ISSN: 1441-2616
Keywords: maps, cartography, northernness, literature
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2018 22:45
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200502 Australian Literature (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210303 Australian History (excl Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950503 Understanding Australias Past @ 50%
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