New map in school changes the world

This is a map of the world you’re probably most familiar with.


The map, however, is a lie.

This is a more accurate depiction of the size of continents.


The Mercator system — the first map (ed. note: image changed from previous post) — distorts the size of the continents closer to the poles. It’s the product of trying to take a spherical map and make it a flat one. North America and Europe look bigger than they actually are in relation to the rest of the globe.

The Peters Projection map — the second map — is more accurate, so Boston public schools are tossing the old map and ushering in the new one in a bid to undo “500 years of distortion,” as The Guardian puts it.

Natacha Scott, director of history and social studies at Boston public schools, said it was “interesting to watch the students saying ‘Wow’ and ‘No, really? Look at Africa, it’s bigger’”.

“Some of their reactions were quite funny,” she added, “but it was also amazingly interesting to see them questioning what they thought they knew.”

Individual schools in the US have used the Peters maps, Scott said, adding: “We believe we are the first public school district in the US to do this.”

A school official said it’s the beginning of an effort to “decolonize” the public school curriculum.

As The Guardian points out, this was all once considered crazy talk, as evidenced by its inclusion in a West Wing episode in which the staff was required to listen to proposals from “crackpots.”

“The Mercator projection showed the spread and power of Christianity and is standard,” Jane Elliott, an Iowa-based lecturer in race relations, tellsThe Guardian. “But it is not the real world at all. What the Boston public schools are doing is extremely important and should be adopted across the whole of the US and beyond.”

She says it’s going to change how young people see the world.

  • Al
  • Rob


  • Jeff C.

    A “world population” map can really change the way someone thinks about the US’s place in the world.

  • Gary F
  • Veronica

    I scrolled down, hoping, hoping, HOPING you’d add in the WW clip. How could I have doubted you, Bob?

    There’s a gigantic collection of globes in Milwaukee.

    • Gary F

      Just think, cheese competition in Green Bay, globes in Milwaukee, mustard museum in Middleton, that’s one heck of a road trip. Save some time to rest between stops, too much excitement.

    • Mike Worcester

      The most interesting aspect of that WW clip is how CJ and Josh at first don’t even want to be there, but by the end are quite intrigued by the proposal; one might even say convinced. And I’d be curious to know for how many WW viewers was this the first time they had even heard about the inaccuracies of Mercator?

  • Jerry

    Neither of them answer the real question: Where be dragons?

    • Rob

      Dragons be frolicking with the sea monsters, right at the edge of the world.

  • Zachary

    I’d be hesitant to call it “a lie”, Bob. Like all flat projections of a spherical surface, you are going to have distortion. The question is where and by how much you want that distortion. While the Mercator projection has its flaws, once you understand that the meridians and parallels cover the same area, there is no question about the actual size of the continents.

    The polar areas are always going to be distorted (compare Alaska to Central North America). The best solution is to have several different projection maps and a globe.

    • D.Robot

      Bobs inferring all kinds of nasty intent to deceive is behind the distortion. While possibly part of the history of it, I don’t automatically buy into that conspiracy.
      AK is still a huge state, I’m gonna have to lay it over some of the lower 48 now. 😉 (see discussion from junebug)

      • Only you can infer. I could only imply. Your premise is your inference.

        • Jeff Elberfeld

          Zachary is right. Basically, all maps are lies, since the Earth is not as flat as a piece of paper (or a computer screen).

          Just take a tangerine, peel of the skin, and try to make a rectangle out of it. You will see that it is impossible without cheating.

          That is why the Winkel-tripel-projection is the standard projection for world maps made by the National Geographic Society, (see ) which is not square.

          Thus, Bob, if you or Boston are arguing that the Mercator-projection should be replaced by the Peters Projection map, then it is an outdated discussion.

  • l sims

    OK, but where’s Antarctica?

  • X.A. Smith

    This is a Mercator Projection. I don’t know the name of your first example, offhand, but it isn’t a Mercator Projection.

    • Zachary

      I think it’s the Robinson.

  • jon
  • D.Robot

    A few thoughts:
    1. Both maps are inaccurate, as they both show Greenland as if it were a mass of land, while (as i understand) a large part of it is just ice.
    2. What about the more Americas-centric map that places the Americas in the center of the map and has Africa on the right side, Australia and Eastern Asia on the left? That way people look at the literal and figurative proximity of the USA to East Asia in a more obvious way.
    3. In a past life, in a previous career more than 10 years ago, I taught at a private school. I used Google Earth in some of my lessons and encouraged others to do so. It was cheap, accessible, encouraged involvement and interest in students. It was a good supplement to any paper map. Some specific technical tools of use: measuring distance in a straight line or great circle, measuring elevations, etc….

    • jon

      1) Greenland is a land mass, covered by glaciers.
      2) Us and east asia are pretty far apart, the pacific ocean is big, that’s why we split the maps there generally.
      3) Electronic maps are great… Maps can contain so much information being able to apply different layers to them is almost a requirement…. when I was in school some maps had over lays that could be pulled over the map for various bits of information…

      • D.Robot

        1 according to Wikipedia, the vast majority of greenlands land has been pushed down to about 300m below sea level. What if we extended all land masses to include up to that depth of ocean?
        2. A flight from anchorage to Seoul might take how long compared to NYC to London for example? Similar, I’d bet. Honolulu to Tokyo?

        • jon

          1) The netherlands, death valley, and new orleans are all below sea level… we don’t show them as water, because there is no water there. Wikipedia also suggests that if the weight of the ice were removed the land would bounce back up (though they use more geology terms to say it…)

          2) A map organized by flight time would be messy, since prevailing winds make flights going west to east faster than those going east to west (even worse if you don’t compensate for timezone changes!)
          Anchorage to Seoul is 3,766 miles
          NYC to London 3,470 miles
          Honolulu to Tokyo 3,854 miles

          And you didn’t ask, but in the interest of talking about mainland US, Tokyo to LA 5,487 miles.

          Those are all very norther hemisphere focused…
          Closest distance from south america to africa is about 1,700 miles.
          South america to Australia 6k-8k miles (depending on how close you want to get to the antarctic…)

          All of this just confirms for me what I said earlier…