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world travel/ perspective

juliagrace's picture

This image is from an episode of West Wing, where people bring in a map of the world that is upside-down and explain why it changes everything. The initial reaction, of course, is to laugh because it's such an odd idea and seems so trivial. However, once I began actually looking into this after our class discussion of "world travel" and perceptions, I realized there is actually something to it. For one thing, the continents are re-sized more acurately, but also it does make you think about the relationship between North and South and Top and Bottom. Even if you don't realize it, I certaintly didn't, constantly seeing the US as near the top of the world, or at least above other countries on the map has an implication of power and importance. Imagine if we were no longer North America, but South? Besides the fact that it sounds weird, are there any other reasons we would object?

It was that idea that made me laugh while watching the show, and then when doing the reading and listening to people in class, it suddenly made me uncomfortable. I have been traveling all my life, have dual-citizenship, and have family members living in 6 different countries so the idea of "international" has always been somewhat unimportant to me. I am used to both fitting in in other countries and standing out (a lot, especially when my Dad wears absurd hats) and I was very uncomfortable with the idea that, subconciously, I would or could still have these thoughts of superiority. It made me think. I never really thought of myself as a "Tourist" because to me that conjures up Hawaiin print shirts and inappropriatly loud conversations coupled with ignorant questions. I'm not sure what I thought I was, what I think I am, but I begin to realize that by giving myself credit for not being like other "Tourists" I am elevating myself to a position of superiority within the realm of traveling, which is just as bad as looking down on other countries and cultures because I do not know these other people traveling as well. This post has taken a bit of an odd turn but it is because I am still working through this idea in my own head. It is strange to suddenly realize the neutrality that I always (secretly) was so proud of, is in fact non-existent at best, and insulting at worst.


OliviaC's picture

Peters projection map

Many of you have probably seen this map:

Peters Map

This is the Peters projection, which corrects for the dilemma of representing a spherical surface (i.e. the Earth) on a flat medium (i.e. paper) by creating an area accurate map.  The Peters Map site does a good job of explaining the rationale for the projection and some of the visual innaccuracies that it corrects.

JBacchus's picture

I feel "inmappate" or however

I feel "inmappate" or however you'd spell it - I didn't even recognize that the shape was the continent of Africa. Julia had to point it out to me.

nmofokeng's picture


Map showing the size of the African continent relative to other countries

I just wanted to added another map to this thread. We often hear of how literacy rates are so low in Africa (and other developing countries) and this map challenges us one step further, to recognize how little is known of the continent and it's relation to other centers of power. I like the idea of "inmappacy." I think it lends itself well to your post as you tease out the ways in which we hold on to our self-righteous notions of some kind of enlightened neutrality while we may be contradicting ourselves.


For our class, "inmappacy" may be a way of thinking about the moments in which the current maps, guidelines, frameworks etc that we often use to look at ideas about literacy and power relations are limited. Where are they distorted? Who do certain ideas serve under which conditions? What do we learn from questioning these?

I think you've started a good thread and I hope we can generate more ideas from it. I've shared the link to the map on twitter and hopefully, a conversation can sprout from it.

alesnick's picture

non-existent neutrality

What a powerful insight!  I appreciate this map and your re-mapping of your identities as a "world-" traveler.  Also, it sounds as if you are making more complex your understanding of the term "tourist" -- seeing more shadings, more than a single story here.  I look forward to where this will go.  Re-thinking north and south in terms of power, hierarchy, privilege connects with our reading on Postcolonialism and Childhood, and also to our recent discussion of the disposal of tech waste.