The world upside down… kinda sorta


"What's up? South!" map by OTDmaps

“What’s up? South!” map by OTDmaps

My new South-up world map at my desk at home… I used to hang regular maps upside down, but just got irritated by the upside down writing. OTDmaps makes these maps, and I love them; why should North be up? There is no reason we can’t turn such an arbitrary convention around!

North-up convention is basically a result of Eurocentrism, and wasn’t how the earliest maps were originally orientated. Actually, the word “orientation” comes from “orient”, meaning East, because many early maps were orientated with East-up. Maps produced by Arabs were drawn with the South on top and the North down, after Chinese maps, before the Europeans started using the North-up version; the Chinese actually even referred to the compass magnets as the “South pointing stone”. Al Jazeera has a great article on the history of how North ended on top of the map.

(source: Wikipedia)
The original “Blue Marble” photo. Nope it is not upside down, this the “right” way up

Of course, in space (which is where our little ball of dirt floating) there is not “up”; the iconic picture taken by Apollo 13, “The Blue Marble“, was actually taken with South-up because of wherever the spaceship was in relation to Earth. In order to make to fit the traditional view, it was flipped upside down.

Interestingly, there has been one study that showed that the North-up convention somehow influences people to think of North as “good” versus South as “bad”… I wonder how the inaccurate Mercator projection, which is still dominant, is contributing to such notions as well. In the Mercator projection, continents on the Southern hemisphere seem a lot smaller than they actually are. Of course, no map projection is completely accurate, as there are always trade offs; flattening a sphere onto a square piece of paper is like making a baby throw up only on a dirty floor, impossible.

An now an obligatory, and funny, pop culture appearance that illustrates this nicely:

Though Mercator was Flemish, not German; just saying.

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