March 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gerard Mercator!

Born on this date in 1512, in Flanders, Mercator was a geographer and mathematician who worked out a way to draw maps and globes that were much more accurate than previous efforts.

He made most of his money by making fine mathematical instruments, and he worked on his first globe project as an engraver of brass plates. In 1537 he embarked
on cartography, or map making.

Before Mercator, globes were made by carefully painting maps onto spheres of wood, or carefully engraving brass spheres. It was very difficult to draw / paint / engrave on the round surfaces.

Mercator created his world maps flat on paper with a number of tapering gores. These gores were cut out and applied to the spherical globes.

Mercator is more famous for his flat maps than for his globes. He created many maps that exaggerated the size of landforms at the North and South Poles so that lines of longitude would be straight up and down; proportions and coastlines of small objects and of the populated areas of the world – in other words, everything below 70 degrees latitude – would be much more accurate.

This sort of map, shown above, is very common and is named the Mercator projection.

A lot of people complain about the inaccuracy of Mercator projection maps, but apparently these maps made it a LOT easier for sailors to compute their courses. With a Mercator map, they could draw a straight line from their present location to their destination, then compute the angle of that line compared to the straight longitude lines and directly set their course.

Where in the world is Mercator's birthplace, Flanders

This county existed in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, from 862 to 1795. (These dates are often accompanied by the abbreviation A.D. [Anno Domini] or C.E. [Common Era] to distinguish them from earlier dates, which are labeled B.C. or B.C.E., the years before Jesus lived.)

Flanders was part of the “low country,” which easily flooded and was protected by a number of dikes that held back the sea. Today the ancient land of Flanders is mostly in Belgium, but part is in France and part in the Netherlands. The section of Flanders that is now part of Belgium is called the Flemish community; Dutch is the primary language there, whereas French is the primary language of the southern portion of Belgium.

Draw a map...

Create an imaginary land that you can map out in a great deal of detail. Name the features that you include. When you are done, use a ruler to carefully draw a grid of ho
rizontal and vertical lines that are an equal distance away from each other. When you number the lines North and South, East and West (or number the vertical – longitude – lines and label the horizontal – latitude – lines with letters), then you have a way for people to find and talk about the features on your map.
“You can't find Rainbow Falls? Why, that's in 6-C.”
“Where is Crystal City?” “It's in 3-D.”

...and so forth.
Check out

This website explains some ways we
can make flat maps of a round object...There are four world maps with four different projections—none of them Mercator projection! One page shows the problem with high latitudes on the Mercator projection map. Another page shows a hybrid map, which is one of the most common types today.

Here's a simple World Map clickable quiz.

The Owl & Mouse Educational Software website allows you to print maps and also features a challenging interactive world map quiz. Warning: it's fairly difficult, so be sure to need the hints below if you need to!

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