Friday, January 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Maps

Let’s begin the New Year with a fascinating book about maps called How Maps Change Things. A subtitle informs us that it is a “conversation about the maps we choose and the world we want.” Written by Ward L. Kaiser and published by Wood Lake Publishing Inc. under its imprint as Copper House, it is available at in Canada, or through WestminsterJohnKnox at, where I saw it in their catalog.

Author Kaiser asks “What’s a Map For? Keep an open mind. And keep asking. Maps send messages...” says Kaiser, and have always been, more or less, “propaganda.” An example of a map sending messages is the Mercator, which was first produced in 1569, a map for navigation. When used for navigation, the Mercator is a dependable and useful map. For other purposes, Kaiser and other map people claim it is not accurate. The Mercator “enlarges some parts of the world and diminishes others. (Greenland is the same size as Africa!) Where size is concerned, better not depend on the Mercator.”

This book is full of copies of maps of the world done from different perspectives, and it’s easy to see what Kaiser is saying about the Mercator. Even so, many teachers, schools, mapmakers are still using it. On the other hand, after years of growing discontent with the inaccuracies of the Mercator, in Germany in 1974, the Arno Peters map was first published, claiming to be an “equal area map...for the equal value of all peoples.” It was soon in English and is now “widely available in French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, and Danish.”

This new map produced by Peters has encountered “heated opposition as well as enthusiastic welcome.” The earlier Mercator map, “widely used, was often uncritically assumed to be ‘the truth.’” Peters claimed there was no fairness in it and there was great need for an equal area map. Kaiser has included quotes from many geographers and professional cartographers, who give cogent reasons for accepting and promoting the Peters map over the Mercator.

Included is a study guide for four sessions, providing material for discussion on:1) introduction to the conventions of map making; 2) how maps affect the user’s point of view; 3) what some demographics maps don’t show, such as poverty, energy use, water consumption, life expectancy, religion; and 4) new ideas, encouraging participants to dream about how they could get involved in creating a better world.

This is not a religious book, which is what I usually review on this blog. But....this book is about so much more than just maps. It is about politics, and faith and the values we hold dear. It is about human relations, about justice and peace and budgets and environmental concerns. I think we cannot look at this map book without looking carefully, each with our own worldview, or as the Germans say: Weltanschauung. Our value system will go with us, no matter what we are thinking, discussing, sharing, reading, reviewing. God bless you as you read through 2014.

—Lois Sibley