I haven’t been to the map exhibition yet at the British Library. But in a recent conversation someone was telling me about the history of ‘upside down’ maps.
It was a delight to discover so many of these on the internet. It had always puzzled me why the map of the world is always printed one way up — with the North at the top and the South at the bottom. And I’d wondered about the psychological and cultural effects this must have on our understanding of the world.
It was hard enough for me to see an old Australian school atlas with Australia in the centre, Asia, Europe and Africa to the left, and the Americas down the right-hand side. Let alone turning the whole thing upside down. But why not?
Most of the images on the net are in copyright, but this one below is Creative Commons:
I remember seeing a TV documentary years ago about an experiment to change one’s ordinary perception. Some team had designed a set of ‘spectacles’ that you wore, a set of small mirrors that turned your visual world upside down, literally 180°. So you looked out and saw the same normal world, but the sky was at the ‘top’ and the ground at the ‘bottom’.
The remarkable thing was that after about 48 hours of wearing these mirrors, the volunteers involved in this experiment could function normally. Their brains had readjusted. One of the scenes showed them riding bicycles!
[Ann Karp, the designer of the image above, wrote the following: “This is an image I created for the back of a t-shirt. It was done for Cafe Campesino (www.cafecampesino.com), a wonderful fair trade coffee company. The upside down map is also the Peters version of the map of the world–notice the landmasses, accurate in area compared with your traditional Eurocentric map.”]