Henry David Thoreau
Via Al Jazeera:
Why do maps always show the north as up? For those who don’t just take it for granted, the common answer is that Europeans made the maps and they wanted to be on top. But there’s really no good reason for the north to claim top-notch cartographic real estate over any other bearing, as an examination of old maps from different places and periods can confirm…
…There is nothing inevitable or intrinsically correct — not in geographic, cartographic or even philosophical terms — about the north being represented as up, because up on a map is a human construction, not a natural one. Some of the very earliest Egyptian maps show the south as up, presumably equating the Nile’s northward flow with the force of gravity. And there was a long stretch in the medieval era when most European maps were drawn with the east on the top. If there was any doubt about this move’s religious significance, they eliminated it with their maps’ pious illustrations, whether of Adam and Eve or Christ enthroned. In the same period, Arab map makers often drew maps with the south facing up, possibly because this was how the Chinese did it.
Things changed with the age of exploration. Like the Renaissance, this era didn’t start in Northern Europe. It began in the Mediterranean, somewhere between Europe and the Arab world. In the 14th and 15th centuries, increasingly precise navigational maps of the Mediterranean Sea and its many ports called Portolan charts appeared. They were designed for use by mariners navigating the sea’s trade routes with the help of a recently adopted technology, the compass. These maps had no real up or down — pictures and words faced in all sorts of directions, generally pointing inward from the edge of the map — but they all included a compass rose with north clearly distinguished from the other directions.
Image: A perfectly good map. Select to embiggen.
I had that map in my office for 6 years. Not a week passed by without someone questioning my motive of putting it up.
:: Maps are political. They create importance hegemonically— equating importance with orientation.
In 1979, Edward Said was invited by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to France for a conference on Middle East peace. It was in the wake of the Camp David Accords that ended the war between Egypt and Israel, that the author of “Orientalism” and ardent supporter of the Palestinian people, was invited to contribute with other prominent thinkers. Said offered effusive praise for Sartre when recounting his adventure, writing for the London Review of Books: “He was never condescending or evasive, even if he was given to error and overstatement. Nearly everything he wrote is interesting for its sheer audacity, its freedom (even its freedom to be verbose) and its generosity of spirit” But despite admiring Sartre and de Beauvoir, Said was disappointed after meeting his intellectual heroes. Upon arriving in France, Said received a mysterious note informing him that, for security reason, the proceedings were to be held in the home of Michel Foucault. Upon arriving, Said encountered de