As one helpful tool for our examination of developing countries, it may be useful to have a resource that pulls together key maps for different regions and countries. This also turns out to be an instructive exercise, because "maps matter" -- geography is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, in an important sense, there is no such thing as an objective "map."
THE WORLD THROUGH THE MERCATOR LENS
One part of the ideological baggage that most First Worlders have carried around since childhood is the so-called "Mercator Projection," one of the first efforts by mapmakers to make our 3D world collapse onto a 2D surface.
That original projection has been with us since the 1569, when it was first produced by a Flemish cartographer named Gerhard Kremer (Mercatur was the Latinized version of his name.) It was designed, not to indicate the relative size of continents and countries, but to help ships understand where they would end up if they held a steady course ("rhumb line") on a given latitude or longitude.
From the standpoint of comparative geography, the result is severe distortion -- for example, Africa, with 12 million square milies of land mass, ends up the same size as Greenland, with just .8 million square miles, and close in size to the former Soviet Union, with 8.7 million square miles, and China, with just 3.7 million square miles. The "North's" 19 million square miles, is the same size as the South's 39 million square miles, while Europe's 3. 8 million square miles ends up the same size as South America's 6.9 million.
Whether or not any of this was responsible for fundamental ideological biases is doubtful, but it is interesting, after decades of Mercaturial distortion, to suddenly see the world through another set of lens.
THE PETERS PROJECTION (click to enlarge)
The so-called "Peters Projection," after Dr. Arno Peters, was introduced in 1974. It has the nice property that areas are shown in proportion to their actual size. This makes it more appropriate for geopolitical analysis, but worthless for navigation.
There are endless variations on the efforts to trade off spacial accuracy against navigational and aesthetic objectives. Here's a third, more recent alternative, which also preserves the equal area property of the Peters map, but claims to be more visually appealing. Note the diminutive size of North Amerca, Russia, China and Australia in all these equal area projections, relative to Mercatur, and the enormous size of Africa.
Our last world map proportions the size of countries according to their relative populations. From the standpoint of geopolitics, living conditions, the potential impact of climate change by region, and many other issues, this may be the most interesting map of all -- especially since, over the next 50 years, barring a war or epidemic, Asia's population share, relative to Europe, Russia, and Africa in particular, is likely to expand even further.
(c) James S. Henry, Submerging Markets, 2003.