Why do cartographers need to use projections when drawing maps?

1 Answer
Nov 30, 2017

In effect this is because the earth is (approximately) a sphere and maps are flat. As you’ll know, if you’ve ever gift-wrapped a ball as a Christmas present, this requires some distortion/scrumpling.


If you want to flatten a (neatly peeled) orange skin onto a table you’ll find the same problem. Each segment of skin, from a quarter of the orange say, sits up in the middle and cannot be pressed flat. Exactly the same problem occurs when you try to draw a 2D map of a sphere.

Cartographers get round this by using one of a series of possible projections. It seems clear this method will introduce some distortion, but the most common projections chosen historically seemed to emphasise the area of Northern Europe and the U.S over any other area.

Could this possibly be that maps (extremely expensive and of huge strategic value in the past) were paid for and held by the nobility/royalty of these regions and they (naturally?) wished to see their bit of ‘turf’ as the largest, hence most important?

The Wikipedia article here (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gall%E2%80%93Peters_projection) gives a flavour of the arguments and can be compared to articles on other projections on the site.