Why is north up and south down?
Maps are traditionally drawn with north at the top for several reasons, both historical and practical:
- Historical reasons: The earliest maps that we know of, such as the Babylonian world maps from the 6th century BCE, were oriented with east at the top. However, as the ancient Greeks and Romans developed their own mapping traditions, they tended to place north at the top of their maps. This tradition continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era.
- Navigation: North is an important reference point for navigation, as it provides a fixed point of reference for determining direction. By orienting a map with north at the top, it makes it easier for people to orient themselves and navigate using the map.
- Consistency: By convention, most maps today are oriented with north at the top. This makes it easier for people to compare and interpret different maps, as they are all oriented in the same way.
- Cultural reasons: In many cultures, north is seen as a symbol of power, stability, and order. By orienting maps with north at the top, it reinforces this cultural symbolism.
Overall, while there is no inherent reason why maps need to be oriented with north at the top, it has become the convention over time and is now a widely accepted standard.
Who decided north is up?
The tradition of placing north at the top of maps dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who were some of the first societies to develop maps as we know them today. It’s not entirely clear who specifically decided to place north at the top, but it likely emerged as a convention over time.
One factor that may have contributed to this convention is the fact that the North Star (Polaris) has been used as a navigational reference point for centuries, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. By orienting maps with north at the top, it made it easier for people to align the maps with the actual stars in the sky and navigate using them.
Another factor that may have played a role is the fact that many early maps were oriented with east at the top, which was a convention inherited from Babylonian and Egyptian maps. When the Greeks and Romans developed their own mapping traditions, they may have decided to place north at the top as a way of distinguishing their maps from those of their predecessors.
Overall, the tradition of placing north at the top of maps has persisted over the centuries and has become a widely accepted standard, even in today’s digital age.
What is the history of south-up oriented maps?
Maps oriented with south at the top have been used as political statements or to challenge conventional views of geography in various contexts throughout history. Here are some examples:
- Australia: In the 1970s, some Australian geographers and cartographers started to produce maps with south at the top as a way of challenging the Eurocentric perspective that dominates conventional mapping. These maps emphasized Australia’s position in the southern hemisphere and highlighted the continent’s unique physical and cultural characteristics.
- Africa: Some African countries, particularly during the era of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, have used south-up oriented maps as a way of asserting their independence and challenging the dominance of European powers. These maps emphasized Africa’s position at the center of the world and highlighted the continent’s historical and cultural achievements.
- Latin America: Some Latin American countries, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, have used south-up oriented maps as a way of emphasizing their connections with other countries in the southern hemisphere and highlighting their struggles against imperialism and colonialism. These maps often featured images and slogans promoting solidarity and resistance.
- Indigenous perspectives: Some Indigenous groups around the world have used south-up oriented maps as a way of representing their traditional territories and challenging the dominant Western perspective on geography. These maps often emphasize the connections between land, culture, and identity, and can be seen as a way of asserting sovereignty and self-determination.
Overall, maps oriented with south at the top can be seen as a way of challenging the conventional way of thinking about geography and asserting alternative perspectives and worldviews. While they are not widely used for practical purposes such as navigation, they can be powerful political and cultural symbols.