What is the Peters Projection Map?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Peters projection map is a map which attempts to draw the features of the Earth with minimal area distortion. Since the globe is a sphere and a map is flat, some distortion is inevitable, but the Peters projection map works to present bodies of land as accurately as possible. While cartography might not seem like a heated field, there was actually a great deal of controversy over the Peters projection map when it was first revealed in 1974, and some of the controversy continues to this day. Although the Peters projection is not wildly popular, maps drawn using this technique can be found in some map stores, or through specialty supply companies.

Woman waving
Woman waving

The first item of interest about the Peters map is that although it is named for Dr. Arno Peters, Peters did not actually invent it. The credit for an area accurate map actually goes to a Scottish man, James Gall, who pioneered the idea in 1885. Gall's map did not generate very much public interest at the time, and the concept seemed relatively new and innovative as a result when it was re-introduced almost 100 years later by Dr. Arno Peters. This projection style could be more accurately termed a Gall-Peters projection, crediting the original inventor and the man who popularized it.

When Peters introduced the area accurate projection to the world, he framed the map in political terms. He argued that the extremely popular Mercator projection was biased, because the Mercator is not area accurate. As a result, continents around the equator in a Mercator projection look much smaller by comparison to regions far away from the equator, like Greenland. On a Mercator project, Greenland looks gigantic, totally dwarfing Africa, when in fact reality is the other way around; Peters suggested that the size difference made developing nations along the equator seem insignificant.

For navigational purposes, the Mercator projection is actually a far superior map. For political purposes, the Peters projection map is certainly useful, since it provides a more accurate depiction of the area of the land on Earth, although the continents are still quite distorted. In 1973, when Peters presented his map to the world, there was a great deal of discussion about bias, colonialism, and race issues; as a result, the media and some academics seized upon the Peters projection map as a more fair way of representing the Earth.

You can recognize a Peters projection map by the elongated shapes of the continents, and the roughly accurate depictions of area. For example, Greenland will be around 13 times smaller than Africa, as it is in real life. When you look at any map of the Earth, remember that some perspective will be lost as a result of mapping the surface of a spherical object onto a rectangular piece of paper.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon133613

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anon111610

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anon89159

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