Bearings Straight—An Introduction

in Rhumb Lines and Map Wars

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2004 | ISBN: 9780226534312
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226534329 | DOI:
Bearings Straight—An Introduction

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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The Mercator map addresses the sailor's fear of storms by providing a reliable base for plotting meteorological data for tropical regions. Mercator, who published his celebrated world map of 1569 as a set of eighteen sheets, which form a wall-size mosaic 48 inches tall by 80 inches wide, sought to reconcile the navigator's need for a straightforward course with the trade-offs inherent in flattening a globe. These trade-offs include distortions of distance, gross shape, and area. Magnetic declination was not discovered until the fifteenth century, and as Mercator's experience illustrates, geomagnetism proved less well-behaved than sixteenth-century mapmakers had originally believed. Mercator projection lies at the intersection of a diverse collection of intriguing tales about navigation, cartographic innovation, military precision, media mischief, and political propaganda.

Keywords: Mercator map; storms; navigator; trade-offs; Mercator projection

Chapter.  4085 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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