Now that we’re challenging out preconceived ideas of a world map and the world itself, let’s shake it up further with this image.
One glance at this image our brain registers it is a world map, but why does it leave us with an uneasy and unsatisfied feeling? A simple act of flipping the world Mercator map that we’re all familiar with, not only makes us look twice but also challenges our perception of the world and why we’ve come to accept a world map the way it is. I’m completely guilty of naively staring and accepting a world map as truth (Monmonier, 2014), studying borders, cities and routes, planning epic adventures… However, recently I’ve come to question if a seemingly innocent map of the world is really that innocent.
Maps are ‘used by powerful elites to satisfy their agenda’ (Evans, 2015), and these agendas can influence ‘national pride, borders, conquests’ (Monmonier, 2014) and much more. Criticisms of the Mercator world map include its Eurocentrism and disproportionality of countries, which both contribute to a skewed vision of the world. It presents some countries like the United Kingdom and the United State of America as large, dominant and important as they are positioned the top left and middle of the map whereas other countries like Indonesia, Japan and even continental Africa as smaller and less significant due to their positioning underneath America and Europe.
Even a simple case study using the University of Wollongong as seen on Google Maps, demonstrates the relationship between wealth, power and dominance. This is the University where I study and I encourage you to search your university or home town to see which features are most prominent and question why that is so. Why is Panizzi and Out for Lunch but not the Yard or Rush? Why is the Materials Engineering, building 4 shown but not the Communications Centre or the Law Humanities and Arts building not? ‘We map what we want to see, not what is there’ (Evans, 2015).
On a more political note, the conflict between Israel and Palestine clearly demonstrates the use of maps to not only own and control land, but also relates to culture, history and it’s people being erased as well. The decrease of Palestinian land and growth of Israeli land is not purely about land ownership but is directly related colonial issues and political control when the British handed the land to Israel (M.S, 2010).
In 2013, Google Maps changed ‘Palestinian territories’ to ‘Palestine,’ however, when typing ‘Palestine’ into Google Maps in 2015, this is the image produced. There is no distinct area that is labelled as ‘Palestine,’ which raises the question of political power and influence a company like Google Maps has over political control (Groll, 2013).
It is important to be aware of maps ability to lie to us and distort our image of the world, countries, ethnicities, nature and people and it is up to us to be vigilant in seeking answers.
Evans, N. 2015, Mapping the planet, BCM232, University of Wollongong, delivered 17 March 2015
Groll, E. 2013, ‘Israel isn’t happy about Google’s decision to recognise Palestine’, Foreign Policy: Passport, 3 May, accessed 18 March 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/03/israel-isnt-happy-about-googles-decision-to-recognize-palestine/?wp_login_redirect=0
Monmonier, M. 2014, ‘Maps for political propaganda’, How to lie with maps, University of Chicago Press, 10 December
M.S. 2010, ‘The map is not the territories’, The Economist, 14 March, accessed 18 March 2015, http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/03/israel_and_palestine_0