Alaska's Revenge

If you're the kind of person who comments "tl;dr," please go here to read a shorter version of this post.

It seems an image of mine was placed on the famous cartographic blog Strange Maps, which should pretty much constitute a major event in anyone's internet life (thus definitely meriting a blogpost). Anyway, here is the post, which doesn't go into any detail about my image but was simply given the following title and caption:

Alaska's Revenge 

Who's in standing in the corner now?


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I actually made the image about two and a half years ago, posting it on Facebook but never here on the blog. (I guess it's better late that never.) I only sent the image to Frank Jacobs (author of Strange Maps) a few weeks ago, largely because of this post about Texas. If there's one thing that Alaskans can't stand, it's big talk about the size of Texas - and I also felt that a blog like Strange Maps might be able to bring a little more attention to how Alaska is treated cartographically. Thus, I sent Mr. Jacobs the following email:
Hello,  
I left a comment on your Texas post about how often Alaska really is disregarded. I figured I might as well follow up by sending you a map. I made this some time ago, and of course it's more of a satirical image than a map, but all the same it shows a little perspective on how Alaska is treated and systematically the victim of geographic discrimination. Note that the map shows all 50 U.S. states; each section may be shown at a varying scale, but that hardly seems to matter in most other maps of the country, which generally seem to downsize Alaska to about a fifth of its size (or leave it out entirely). 
I'm not trying to be a melodramatic when I talk about geographic discrimination, but as you surely know maps have a powerful ability to shape our consciousness. That said, the question has to be asked how many Americans can accurately locate Alaska on the North American continent and accurately understand its size in comparison with the rest of the country. I don't know if such a survey's ever been done, but I'm not sure I would want to know the result. I understand that it may be impractical to stretch national maps to include Alaska and Hawai'i at real size and in their real locations, but it certainly can be done more often. (Think of the amount of global curve that has to be managed with Russia's national maps.) As it is, Alaska and Hawai'i have been fully-fledged members of the Union for over fifty years, but a quick google search will show a disturbingly large number of maps still leaving them out of the States, as if they had the same statute as Guam. 
Anyway, I'm sure I've talked enough about the issue. Of course, I love your blog, and I look forward to seeing future posts. 
Best, 
Peter Stanton
I also wrote a post here about Geographic Discrimination about two and half years ago, which addresses the Mercator projection as well as discrimination against Alaska. (And though ironically Mercator is biased in favor of Alaska, that isn't about to make me like the projection.) I've also written a post about Alaska as a Country and many other posts about Alaska and geography and cartography.

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In a nutshell, here's my stance: Maps are powerful, and maps create mindsets. Maps of the United States often discard Alaska and Hawai'i, which has greatly contributed to their being left out of American consciousness, even though they've been states for over fifty years. Most all Americans know there are fifty states, and that these fifty states are all fully-fledged and equal members of the United States. At the same time, many Americans will think nothing of a map which shows only 48 states and claims to show our country.

In addition, even when Alaska and Hawai'i are included in maps of the United States, Alaska is consistently downsized to many times smaller than its true size and placed in whatever location is most convenient - often below the contiguous states in an area that would be Mexico. This may well be done for the sake of convenience, but it creates powerful biases in the minds of Americans, children and adults alike. The size and position of Alaska in the country is constantly discarded, ignored or totally unknown.

Here are some of the types of maps that address this issue. I'd really like to see them used more often:



Do you find these images strange or even unsettling? If so, I'm not surprised. Hopefully, steadily, we can start to end geographic discrimination against Alaska, and sometime soon schoolchildren won't just know there are fifty states, but they'll also understand how those fifty states really are, both in terms of size and in location.

Comments

  1. E to the J20 March, 2012

    I don't like the first one because Canada's in there and it's an AMERICAN map not a canadian map!!!!1!! How ever the second one is awesome and made out of strawberry cheese cake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Senegal, Italy and other countries have the same problem: Any map of their whole country will also show all of Gambia, or the Vatican and San Marino as well. Of course, you can keep Alaska in the right place and also just remove Canada, like I did in a whole bunch of my map posts like this one.

      Delete

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