I am perhaps a little obsessed with world maps, and how they shape our perception of the world. I have different apps with globes on my I-pad, and I often take a virtual tour of the world before falling asleep. So I was intrigued that -after all this time- a truly new and more accurate world map had been made? Curious? You can find the map, and learn more, here.
This map allows us to understand China’s growing power from not only a financial but also a demographic standpoint. It’s also just fun to see which country has an equivalent population to a Chinese province. As someone who grew up on Canada, it was interesting that Canada’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Shanxi. And Germany’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Sichuan. Of course, in the long term China faces a future defined by a declining population, so this map lacks some context.
I’ve written about maps many times before on this blog, because they have so much power. A website called The True Size is designed to allow people to compare the relative size of nations. To use the website, you enter the name of a country. Then you can drag and drop the country over any part of the world that you wish. The website quickly makes you realize the extent to which northern countries are magnified. Canada looks huge if you place it over Russia. It’s scale looks very different when placed over Africa. If one moves Australia over Europe it stretches from northern Finland to central Turkey, with Tasmania in the Mediterranean. In the west it covers Great Britain, while in the east it nearly touches Kazakhstan. There is something slightly hypnotic about manipulating the map.
Danny Dorling has a great TED talk that shows how data can be used to create maps that change how we perceive our world, called “Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are).” The maps convey information about migration, population, demographic change, trade, water, food production, and history, in about a 14 minute video. I think that this video would be a great resource for an introductory class, to show how maps are tools, and are always based on assumptions.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University