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Boston Public Schools Remove Eurocentric Maps

When the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator created his projection of the world in 1569, his aim was to develop a guide for marine navigation along colonial trade routes. As a result, areas far from the equator appear dramatically large, while areas closer to the equator are truer to size. This makes Europe and North America seem bigger than South America and Africa—possibly stoking people’s unconscious biases. In reality, South America is about twice as large as Europe. Similarly, Africa appears to be the same size as Greenland on the Mercator map, despite being 14 times larger in real life. Another flaw in the Mercator projection is that it places Europe in the center. Critics say this promotes a Eurocentric worldview and dilutes the importance of the rest of the globe.

Last week, Boston Public Schools took these concerns to heart and introduced a new world map to their second-, seventh-, and 11th-grade social-studies classrooms. The revised map—known as the Peters projection—was introduced in 1974 by the German historian Arno Peters as a more accurate alternative to the Mercator. While the Peters projection is not without its own controversies (it has been criticized for distorting shapes), it presents a more realistic depiction of the size and relative scale of the continents. Some individual schools across the country have already begun to introduce the Peters projection in their classrooms, but Boston believes it’s the first public-school district in the nation to do so. So far, 600 laminated maps have been distributed to Boston students, costing the district around $12,000.