The Mercator Projection: its uses, misuses, and its association with scientific information and the rise of scientific societies

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michele Abee (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jeffrey Patton

Abstract: This study examines the uses and misuses of the Mercator Projection for the past 400 years. In 1569, Dutch cartographer Gerard Mercator published a projection that revolutionized maritime navigation. The Mercator Projection is a rectangular projection with great areal exaggeration, particularly of areas beyond 50 degrees north or south, and is ill-suited for displaying most reference and thematic world maps. The current literature notes the significance of Gerard Mercator, the Mercator Projection, the general failings of the projection, and the twentieth century controversies that arose as a consequence of its misuse. This dissertation illustrates the path of the institutionalization of the Mercator Projection in western cartography and the roles played by navigators, scientific societies and agencies, and by the producers of popular reference and thematic maps and atlases. The data are pulled from the publication record of world maps and world maps in atlases for content analysis. The maps ranged in date from 1569 to 1900 and displayed global or near global coverage. The results revealed that the misuses of the Mercator Projection began after 1700, when it was connected to scientists working with navigators and the creation of thematic cartography. During the eighteenth century, the Mercator Projection was published in journals and reports for geographic societies that detailed state-sponsored explorations. In the nineteenth century, the influence of well-known scientists using the Mercator Projection filtered into the publications for the general public. This dissertation offers a glimpse into the complexities of mapping, the choice of map projection and why the Mercator Projection changed human’s ability of moving from one place to another, or, their perception of spatial arrangement of the globe.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Cartography, History of Cartography, History of Geography, Mercator Projection
Mercator projection (Cartography)
Cartography $x History
Geography $x History

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