Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

South-Up Map Orientation

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South-Up Map Orientation - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

Orientation of a map with south up. Cultural diversity and media literacy educators use south-up oriented world maps to help students viscerally experience the frequently disorienting effect of seeing something familiar from a different perspective. Having students consider the privileged position given to the Northern hemisphere (especially Europe and North America) on most world maps can help students confront their more general potential for culturally biased perceptions.

Throughout history, maps have been made with varied orientations, and reversing the orientation of maps is technically very easy to do. As such, some cartographers maintain that the issue of south-up map orientation is itself trivial. More noteworthy than the technical matter of orientation, per se, is the history of explicitly using south-up map orientation as a political statement, that is, creating south-up oriented maps with the express rationale of reacting to the north-up oriented world maps that have dominated map publication during the modern age.

The history of south-up map orientation as political statement can be traced back to the early 1900s. Joaquín Torres García, a Uruguayan modernist painter, created one of the first maps to make a political statement related to north-south map positions entitled “América Invertida”. “Torres-García placed the South Pole at the top of the earth, thereby suggesting a visual affirmation of the importance of the (South American) continent.”

A popular example of a south-up oriented map designed as a political statement is “McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World” (1979). An insert on this map explains that the Australian, Stuart McArthur, sought to confront “the perpetual onslaught of ‘downunder’ jokes—implications from Northern nations that the height of a country’s prestige is determined by its equivalent spatial location on a conventional map of the world”.[9] McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World (1979) has sold over 350,000 copies to date.

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