Consolation Cartography

D. Graham Burnett

  • Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection by Mark Monmonier
    Chicago, 242 pp, £17.50, November 2004, ISBN 0 226 53431 6

In the wake of last year’s US presidential election, a map was emailed among despondent Democrats. Instead of depicting the nation as a broad crimson carpet trimmed at either end with a narrow cerulean fringe, it resized each state according to its population, transforming the Republican heartland into a small, livid bud enveloped by a corolla of healthy blue petals. This was an example of consolation cartography, a representation of the United States of liberal dreams. Students of geography call this kind of graphic an ‘area cartogram’, and Mark Monmonier invokes them in his spirited polemic on the Mercator projection: such images, he writes, ‘can make a strong ideological statement, especially if fairness to all people is more important than fairness to all acres’.

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