Thesis ID: CBB047660442

The Mercator Projection: Its Uses, Misuses, and Its Association with Scientific Information and the Rise of Scientific Societies (2019)


This study examines the uses and misuses of the Mercator Projection for the past 400 years. In 1569, Dutch cartographer Gerard Mercator published a projection that revolutionized maritime navigation. The Mercator Projection is a rectangular projection with great areal exaggeration, particularly of areas beyond 50 degrees north or south, and is ill-suited for displaying most reference and thematic world maps. The current literature notes the significance of Gerard Mercator, the Mercator Projection, the general failings of the projection, and the twentieth century controversies that arose as a consequence of its misuse. This dissertation illustrates the path of the institutionalization of the Mercator Projection in western cartography and the roles played by navigators, scientific societies and agencies, and by the producers of popular reference and thematic maps and atlases. The data are pulled from the publication record of world maps and world maps in atlases for content analysis. The maps ranged in date from 1569 to 1900 and displayed global or near global coverage. The results revealed that the misuses of the Mercator Projection began after 1700, when it was connected to scientists working with navigators and the creation of thematic cartography. During the eighteenth century, the Mercator Projection was published in journals and reports for geographic societies that detailed state-sponsored explorations. In the nineteenth century, the influence of well-known scientists using the Mercator Projection filtered into the publications for the general public. This dissertation offers a glimpse into the complexities of mapping, the choice of map projection and why the Mercator Projection changed human’s ability of moving from one place to another, or, their perception of spatial arrangement of the globe.

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Authors & Contributors
Krogt, Peter C. J. van der
Nicolai, Roel
Bracke, Wouter
Broecke, Marcel van den
Cams, Mario
d'Hollander, Raymond
Imago Mundi: A Review of Early Cartography
Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences
British Society for the History of Mathematics Bulletin
Cartographica Helvetica
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Institut Océanographique
Maps; atlases
Societies; institutions; academies
Nautical charts
Mercator, Gerardus
Nunes, Pedro
Ortelius, Abraham
Pell, John
Petermann, August
Pitt, Moses
Time Periods
16th century
17th century
18th century
19th century
Mediterranean region
Black Sea
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
Royal Society of London
Académie Royale des Sciences (France)

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