The planisphere, an ambiguous figure of the world

This time we will talk about people who changed the world for the better.Advertising makes great use of the planispheres: the world character of a newspaper, an airline or a business school is often spoken of as a world portrait of a planisphere. Without this figure, the World is an abstraction. Figurated, it becomes familiar and seems less threatening.

People Who Changed The World For The Better

But we do not use any planisphere, it is just essential that it is usual or, better, that it is recognizable with a slight lag. There are many ways of representing the surface of the terrestrial globe in two dimensions (literally, the plani-sphere). They are called projections: complex mathematical exercises in relation to a spherical surface (or almost) and another plane. Most of the planispheres, although the polar projections have acquired a right of citation in textbooks and the press for the last twenty years, remain marked by three habits of reading: a largely “conformal” projection, orientation in the North and the cut in the Pacific.

unknown people who changed the world

Planispheres that respect shapes but not sizes (according to projections called “conform”) give, we have long been aware, a narrowed image of the regions near the equator. The most famous projection, the Mercator, named after the great Flemish cartographer of the XVI th century to whom we owe also the word “atlas” for a collection of maps is precisely fully compliant [1]; all the meridians and all the parallels intersect at right angles, as on the terrestrial geoid. It is a map of sailors, where the angles are just, but which has the effect of exaggerating the surfaces of the high latitudes, since the poles are projected to infinity, and conversely, to minimize the intertropical region the poorest area. Thus, Australia, which is in reality four times larger than Greenland, is represented in it much smaller [2]. Compensations have been invented, sometimes even caricatured, like the Peters card, which was very fashionable in the 1980s, to the point of being used as a wallpaper for the newspapers of Antenne 2. Thus, when one wants to give a shifted image of the World, this familiar projection is often repeated, changing just one parameter. A map, made twenty years ago in Australia, was well known: it simply put the island-continent in the center and up, where Europe is usually. The South was thus above and the cut in the Atlantic, not in the Pacific. But it was a very classic Mercator.

individuals who have made a difference in the community

Indeed, the most widespread maps in the world, far beyond European cartography alone, place the lateral edges of the rectangle in which the planisphere is inscribed in the middle of the Pacific. Or, if you prefer, put the Greenwich meridian in the middle. It is not surprising that surveys show that the question “why is the meridian O ° this one? “, The most common answer is” because it is in the middle “. These maps are always oriented to the north, which puts Europe up in the center. All this is not innocent, of course, since on a ball all the points on the surface are equivalent and that we can therefore center a planisphere on any point of the globe, it will be equally just or any as false as the others. It should never be forgotten that, unlike any plane map,

historical figures who took a stand

The most familiar planispheres are therefore obsolete representations. The Pacific is no longer a margin, as at the time when Europe dominated the World, before 1914, when Europeans traced the time zones and chose their origin by placing it on the meridian of the the greatest imperialist power of the time. Current globalization has no edge either, even if it has margins.

In the 1980s, there was an editorial fashion on the “Pacific new center of the world”. This inversion is synchronous with the sudden realization of the weight of the global level in a wide audience. It is also the moment when the word “globalization” falls into the public domain, enters into current dictionaries (1981 for Petit Larousse ). Nothing surprising then a collection of maps becomes a bestseller , rare phenomenon: the Strategic Atlasof Gérard Chaliand and Jean-Pierre Rageau (Fayard, 1983) had its success with a few planispheres known until then only of some specialists and, above all, other more classical maps but centered on China or America. There has thus been a slight evolution of the representation of the world, but nothing has really been upset. It is always difficult to realize that the East and the West are only relative data, unlike the North and South which have absolute places, poles.

Everything comes from an insoluble contradiction: whereas the planisphere necessarily has borders, the terrestrial globe, and therefore the World, does not. The Earth is indeed a finite extension, but it is not bounded. Yet the world built by Europe remains long focused on it until the beginning of XX th century and over the Atlantic, the West. In fact, there are indeed “margins of the World”, margins, in the North and in the South, but also in the East and in the West, in the Pacific. In 1913, the planisphere can be considered “just” as an effective representation of the world.

But this figure is also a mental image, a social representation of which we have difficulty to pass. It functions as a subliminal thought of the World. It is difficult to convince an editor, textbook editor or teacher to use a variety of planispheres, often – and even necessarily – unusual. No planisphere is totally “just”, but all give insights, complementary points of view. But when one has “lost the North”, when one does not know in what direction to lay the figure, one is afraid that the public “loses time” to find oneself in the map. For it is quite evident to these interlocutors that the main message is what will be put on this background map, wheat production or drug routes,[3] . Everything (background of) planisphere is a thought of the World. And too often we think of the world of today with the representation of the day before yesterday [4] .

Because it takes familiar images to integrate novelty. We try to grasp the new with old concepts. What the planisphere shows us is a mental icon of the earth’s surface, divided into familiar sets, all the more reassuring as the map helps to naturalize them. When we speak of America or Africa, these continents seem to us to be facts of nature. Yet, as their representations familiarize us, they are historical divisions, projected by European cartographers on lands and societies. Faced with a planisphere we all see Africa as evidence. Now why cut this way rather than with other limits? The isolation of this part of the land, the very name it was chosen, Africa, is a story to be located north of this part of the World, in the ancient Mediterranean and medieval Europe. We are in a pure set of representations [5] . Yet who would not see Africa on the planisphere today? And animated or interactive cartography, Google Earth or Google Map do not induce different mental frameworks.

The use of the card is ambiguous. The cartographic violence is all the more powerful because it is painless, the background of card discreetly discards under the contents that fill them. Yet it is a message that is far from innocent.


Three Clouds