29 November 2010

Africa is Big

The Economist provides the maps above and a discussion of their origin from one Kai Krause, a graphics expert who is engaged in a battle against "immappancy."  It is a worthy battle.  In a standard Mercator projection, Africa is indeed deemphasized.  Even maps have politics.


  1. Speaking of "immappancy" - the United States includes Alaska, which makes more than a little difference to the total area covered by the US.

  2. Lots of land. Few thermometers.

  3. @Rebecca - that was the first thing pointed out when this article was first posted. Nice to have map-geeks telling us how much smarter they are than the rest of us. Notice how they compare a continent - Africa - to nation states. Now that's apples and apples. They certainly were careful to leave Canada off that map - of course, Canada gets the squeeze the same as south Africa does.

    When I was in grad school in the mid-90s, a guy in one of my classes from another department made a big deal about the same topic.Apparently, the geography types hold this topic as their 'we know better than you do' card, which they play endlessly at parties and coffee shops.

    In the end, what does it matter how big Africa is? If the world studies this map and learns the truth, will the GDP of sub-saharan nations suddenly jump to Scandanavian levels? Will governments suddenly become open and honest? Will the rag-tag militias stop raping women and go home?

    All in all, I find the effort sophomoric, if not disingenuous.

  4. But my wife has always told me size doesn't matter. The Economist isn't calling my wife a liar, are they?

    But seriously, who is suffering immappancy here. The United States, China and India are three countries whose combined land mass (if you include Alaska as you should) would be large enough to cover 51 of the 54 African countries entirely. (More if we were allowed to rearrange them.)

    Besides, a larger problem in America is kids simply are not taught geography anymore. I've seen the map quizzes my wife gives to college freshmen and I was shocked to discover that 5% of them have difficulty identifying land areas from ocean areas on an blank map. So Mercator isn't the problem. Good ol' fashioned pig ignorance is the problem.

  5. as a geographer (among other hats) I'm glad to see this post.


  6. @The Iconic Midwesterner

    My father (high school graduate, 1941) was horrified when we watched a television news report that Ivy League students (half?) couldn't find major nations on a world map. The removal of geography from the curriculum was a pet peeve of my mother's to the day she died.

  7. Look at a world map. Which is bigger, Brazil or Continental USA?

    Fooled ya:
    Brazil is 8,511,965 km²
    The 48 states are 7,902,634 km²

    Economist's point made. But getting into the whole politically correct cry baby thing of under representation etc., I hate that. Most of the world's land mass is in the northern hemisphere, so if you need to enlarge one, southerners, let's give it to them.