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In 1493- one year after Columbus's first voyage to America - the Pope apportioned the non-European world among the most powerful nations of his own continent. By the time Mercator completed his Atlas 100 years later, European domination had spread across the world, and Mercator's Atlas was the embodiment of Europe's geographical conception of the world in an age of colonialism.

Since then thousands of atlases have been published. They differ in many respects from Mercator's, but all adhere to the principle of a Eurocentric view of the world. The country and continent of origin are represented at a larger scale than the non-European countries. If, together with the age of colonialism, the view of the world that underpinned it is to come to an end, we need a new geography - one that is based on the equal status of all peoples.

This Atlas represents all countries and continents at the same scale. Their actual size and their position in the world can thus be taken directly from the map. This equal presentation is the expression of the consciousness that is gradually replacing our conventional ways of thinking about the world.

The use of a single scale for all topographic maps; the principle of fidelity of area; and a new, universally applicable presentation of relief; together, these now make possible a fundamental change in our conception of the world. All 246 thematic maps are also equalarea world maps. The comprehensive presentation in these thematic maps of man, nature and society is based on the same principle of equality as that underlying the topographic maps.

This Atlas, therefore, offers a way of understanding the background to, and causes of, the North-South divide as well as the tensions between East and West - so often the outcome of the gulf which separates rich and poor. In so doing, it throws new light on the profound changes of our times.


Arno Peters




lt may come as a shock to realise that all of the atlases we have known until now present a distorted picture of the world. The nature of this distortion, and the reason for it, are now so obvious that it seems hardly possible to have overlooked them for over 400 years. The distortion caused by attempting to represent the spherical earth on fiat paper is more or less unavoidable, but the distortion caused by the use of inconsistent scales, which has acquired the unquestioned sanction of habit, is not.

We have come to accept as "natural" a representation of the world that devotes disproportionate space to large-scale maps of areas perceived as important, while consigning other areas to small-scale general maps. And lt is because our image of the world has become thus conditioned, that we have for so long failed to recognise the distortion for what lt is - the equivalent of peering at Europe and North America through a magnifying glass and then surveying the rest of the world through the wrong end of a telescope.

There is nothing "natural" about such a view of the world. lt is the remnant of a way of thinking born even before the age of colonialism and fired by that age. Few thinking people today would subscribe to a world-view of this kind. Yet, until now, no atlas has existed which provided the undistorted picture of the world which seems so long overdue.

A single scale
All topographic maps in this atlas are at the same scale:
each double-page map shows one-sixtieth of the earth's surface. This means that all the topographic maps can be directly compared with one another. Among the many surprises this unique feature offers may be, for some users, the relative sizes of Great Britain (page 32) and the island of Madagascar (page 47); or, perhaps, the areas respectively covered by Europe (pages 32-33) and North Africa (pages 36-37). For most people lt will soon become apparent that their hazy and long-held notions of the sizes of different countries and regions are, in a lot of cases, quite drastically wrong.

But what do we mean by scale? The scale indicator that appears on reference maps only shows distance scale. lt enables the user to calculate the factor needed to multiply distances so as to compare them with those on other maps. This is a complex and somewhat tedious exercise that the great majority of users understandably neglect to carry out. Moreover, the number of different scales in our atlases is surprisingly high, in general between twenty and fifty. The concept of relative scale must become increasingly vague in the user's mind. What is generally not mentioned is that, because it is impossible to transfer the curved surface of the globe correctly to a fiat plane, the scale indicator on a map is only valid for a single part of the map, such as a line of latitude.

Distance is only one aspect of the scale. Area has also to be considered. Whereas there can be no maps with absolute fidelity of distance, there can be maps with fidelity of area. The maps in this atlas preserve fidelity of area, a feature never previously achieved in an atlas. In the Peters Atlas all topographic maps have equal area scale: 1 square centimetre on the map is equal to approximately 7,400 square kilometres in reality.
But there is a price to pay for the introduction of this innovation. This atlas is unsuitable for some purposes. A world atlas like this one is not designed to guide the motorist, or to replace the inexpensive detailed road map; nor is it intended as an aid for local geography. lt offers, instead, a comprehensive global view.

A single symbology
This equality of scale offers further advantages besides direct comparability. The basis of any map compilation is the simplification of reality, which cartographers call "generalisation". This transfer of the real character of the earth's surface into a System of lines and symbols, which can be graphically represented, has to be adapted to the scale employed. Thus a river or road with all its turns and windings on a scale of 1:100,000 can be drawn nearer to reality, (that is, with more detail) than on a scale of 1:1,000,000. Symbols also vary for different scales. Thus the same symbol can mean a town with 50-100,000 inhabitants on one scale, but a city with 1-5 million inhabitants on another. The same elevation may be differently coloured on maps of different scale. All such difficulties vanish in this atlas, which by way of its single scale has only one level of generalisation and a single Set of symbols.

Topographic map colours
The green/brown colouring of most current atlases represents the topographic relief of the region; green stands for low-lying areas, brown for mountainous country, with different shades of the two colours for different elevations. Since, however, both colours (as also the blue of the sea and the white of snow-covered mountains) are borrowed from nature, the user of the atlas may be forgiven for assuming the green parts on the map to represent areas with vegetation and the brown parts to be the barren land. Although this is broadly true in Europe it may not be so elsewhere. For example, in North Africa the lower areas, even those below sea level, are usually deserts, and it is only above a certain height in the mountains that vegetation begins. The green/brown colouring is thus unsuitable for representing relief in a genuine world atlas. So in this Atlas green represents vegetation, brown barren land, and a mixture of the two colours represents thin or scattered vegetation. Global Vegetation data were obtained from 1985-86 satellite photography with the help of the Remote Sensing Unit at the Department of Geography of Bristol University. The resolution of this imagery down to individual units of 20 square kilometres, and its conversion to the Peters base maps by the Remote Sensing Unit, makes this the most up-to-date statement available of the distribution of world vegetation.

Topographic map relief
To give the impression of relief the Peters Atlas has combined two techniques: shading by hand, which has developed to an advanced art in recent years, and the technique less often used because of its high cost - that of making relief models of the terrain and then photographing them. Although model photography is unsurpassed in its three-dimensional effect, it presents two difficulties. Because the light source has to come primarily from one direction, relief features running directly along the line of the light source are under-represented. At the same time, relief features running at 90 degrees to the light source and dose to it sometimes lose detail, becoming either uniformly light or shadowed. To overcome both of these in the Peters Atlas, the relief features on the model photograph have been enhanced by hand. At the same time, more intense shading has been added to the highest mountains, so that the relative height of the mountains on any map can be judged at a glance. The addition of spot heights for selected peaks and other points on the map lends accuracy to this technique.

The Peters Projection
Anyone who has ever tried to peel an orange and press the peel into a continuous fiat piece without tearing will have grasped the fundamental impossibility that lies at the heart of all cartographic endeavour: that fidelity of shape, distance and angle are of necessity lost in flattening the surface of a sphere. On the other hand it is possible to retain three other qualities: fidelity of area, fidelity of axis and fidelity of position. Fidelity of area makes it possible to compare various parts of a map directly with one another, and fidelity of axis and position guarantee correct relationships of northsouth and east-west axes by way of rectangular grid.

In 1973 Arno Peters published his world map, which unites in a single fiat map all three achievable qualities - fidelity of area, fidelity of axis and fidelity of position. In this way the real comparative sizes of all countries in the world are clearly visible. For this Atlas Arno Peters has generalised the projection principle upon which his World Map was based, so that now each regional map represents the maximum possible freedom from distortion. Since map distortions through a projection decrease in proportion as the area represented becomes smaller, the forty-three topographical maps in this Atlas are considerably closer to reality than in the Peters World Map. In particular these individual maps correct the distortions which are unavoidable on the Peters World Map in the equatorial and polar regions. An indication of how this has been applied can be seen from the shapes of the page areas on the Map Finder (front endpaper). In the North they are long and thin while towards the Equator they are nearly square. The degree of departure from the normal page proportion is a guide to the amount of shape correction applied to the regional maps.

The eight polar maps on pages 80-95 have the same scale as all the other topographical maps. They also have fidelity of area, and represent one-sixtieth of the Earth's surface on each double page. Thus the size of the countries and continents shown on them can be directly compared with all the other 35 topographical maps. The fidelity of position and axis which is necessarily lost on polar maps is also not present on these maps.

The thematic maps
The second part of this Atlas directs attention to the whole earth. The author has collected data for 246 individual world thematic maps under 45 subject headings. Each of these subject headings is given a double page spread, but if more than one topic is covered under any subject, separate maps are given. Thus under the subject heading "Life Expectancy" only one topic is covered so the double spread comprises a single map, whereas the subject heading "Domestic Animals" requires sixteen topics and therefore displays sixteen individual maps. The principle of one topic per map also enables all the maps to be represented by simple grades of colour, with, usually, a single hue chosen for each topic. Within this hue the range from light to dark colour represents 10w to high values of the topic. In this way all the thematic maps can be understood at a glance, without the necessity for complicated symbols or explanations.

The graticule
The traditional zero meridian running through Greenwich was adopted worldwide in 1884, when Britain was the strongest European colonial power and ruled over a quarter of the world. After the ending of colonialism and with the closure of Greenwich Observatory, there is no reason other than custom for retaining this zero meridian. The International Dateline, which is dependent upon the zero meridian, also needs correction, since over its whole length it has been partially diverted where it cuts an inhabitated area. The retention of the division into 360 degrees is also, it can be argued, an anomaly in the age of worldwide decimalisation.

Arno Peters has therefore proposed a new decimal grid in which the zero meridian and the International Date Line would become a single line placed in the middle of the Bering Strait, and the earth is divided into 100 decimal degrees east-west and north-south. While for practical reasons the Greenwich system is retained throughout the bulk of the Atlas, the new decimal grid is shown on pages 230-231.

The Index
Someone consulting an index in search of a district, town or river has until now had to memorise, besides the page number, at least two grid figures, two letters, or a letter and a number. There can be few users of an atlas who have not experienced the irritation of forgetting at least one item in this unwieldy string of digits by the time the relevant map has been located, and the time-consuming exercise of turning back to the index to recall this information. In the Peters Atlas there is, apart from the page number, only a single letter, which can easily be remembered. This innovatory and simple indexing system is explained on page 188.

Computer cartography
Computer cartography now makes it possible to keep maps up to date with the latest results of worldwide research. At the same time, however, pure automation can rob the map of its best characteristics - the handcrafted workmanship of the cartographer.

The Peters Atlas combines both of these approaches. The base maps have been recentred from the world projection using Europe's most modern Scitex computer installation in Berne, with geographic data from the Erdgenässische Technische Hochschule. Satellite data for vegetation has been tailored by computer to fit these bases. The rest of the cartography for the topographic and thematic maps has remained in the hands of traditional cartographic craftsmen in Oxford. The Peters Atlas therefore reconciles these two approaches. We have used as much mechanisation as necessary and as much handcraft as possible.


Terry Hardaker
Chief Cartographer
Oxford Cartographers


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