Hello everyone. I’ve been reading the comments on the MacArthur Map, which places the pacific ocean in the center and the southern hemisphere at the top, and i’ve noticed 2 types of comments. The first was shock that the map could be reoriented, and the second is that there is no reason to reorient the map. I thought i would make a post explaining the purpose, as best i can.
A universal truth about human nature is revealed in cartography. What is most important is placed in the center and at the top. This is a rule that i have yet to see broken, in either modern or ancient maps. It makes sense, as early cartographers might have only had a rough understand of what was outside their immediate area. When looking at Greek cartography (from which the Western tradition descends), you can literally watch their understand of the world grow. This brings us to the first map, made by Herodotus in the fifth century BC. Greece is placed right in the center. To him, it was the center of the world. All other cultures were inferior. Barbarian simply means non-Greek speaker, and they were convinced of their superiority. Greece remains the center of the world to us. If you do not believe me, ask yourself the names we use (I’m speaking as an American) for different regions of the world. Everything west of Greece is The West, everything east is the Middle or Far East. It is a largely unconscious bias, but Greece remains our fulcrum.
Take a look at the second map, made in 1154 by Moroccan cartographer al-Idrisi. It is essentially familiar, except that south is at the top. Another important feature is the alignment of the Arabian peninsula. With the usual North-South orientation, the Peninsula is at an angle. Here, however, it is home to Mecca, the most important place to the cartographer. The center of the world, and it is represented as such.
And that brings us to China, which means “the Middle Kingdom”. The third map is the Kangnido, made around 1470 by Korean cartographers. It reflects the knowledge of the Mongol Empire (gained through Islamic cartographers). The Korean Penninsula and surrounding area is in sharp focus, and things quickly blur the further west you move. The jumbled mass on the left is Europe and Africa. Spain and Italy can be made out, as well as the southern tip of Africa. This whole region of the earth is shoved into the corner because it was seen as unimportant, just the periphery real civilization. The exact same murkiness can be seen in #2, just reversed.
And so, that brings us to today’s world map. Do a quick Google search of world maps. 95% of the time, Europe is in the center and the top. The only deviation from this is generally when America is placed in the center at the expense of Asia. If you do not understand why it is relevant today that Europe sees itself as the center of the world, do some extensive reading on the past 500 years. Much of the world has suffered from the idea that Europe equals civilization. Like their Greek forefathers, the world is composed of Barbarians. Ask yourself if England respected China, then research the Opium Wars. As i said before, everyone is the center of their own world. Euro-centrism still pervades every aspect of American’s daily life. We learn nothing of Islam or China. Education about Africa concerns only the Egyptians, Evolution and the Slave Trade (and trust me, it is just barely.) It is a post for another day, but i have spent the last four years of my life studying it*. And so this is why it is important to have a map flipped upside down, because in this day and age there is no Center of the World. That is why MacArthur made his map in the first place, because he was tired of seeing Australia pushed to the margin. The real reason i made this post is the same reason i made the blog. Maps are important, as they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do about the world.
And if anyone would like to ask me anything or debate, feel free to message me.
*Disclaimer: Not everyone is selfish and insular. Many people have interest in cultures other than their own. I’m talking about the culture’s attitude as a whole, not individuals. There isn’t really an inferiority complex in Europe (except for the Romans to the Greeks, and Western states to the Romans) like can be found elsewhere.