WITH THE MAP SUPPLEMENT in this issue, the Society passes another important milestone in its mapmaking history. For the first time since 1943 we are offering members a different and more realistic view of the world.
Globes, though often impractical and sometimes expensive, provide the only accurate portrayal of the world. However, we cannot see the whole earth at one time on globes, nor can we measure distances easily. Maps on flat paper provide a convenient solution, but all—including our old standby first published in 1922 on the Van der Grinten projection—distort the round earth in some way.
Our most recent search for a better way to “project” the globe onto a flat sheet began shortly after I arrived at the Society in 1982. Many new map projections have come along since 1922. The Society’s 100th birthday gave the incentive to search for a new projection for our 1988 political map of the world.
In December 1987 a panel of cartographers was appointed to evaluate world map projections. After reviewing more than 20 projections, it was unanimously agreed that the one devised in 1963 by the eminent cartographer Arthur H. Robinson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison would serve us—and you—best. The staff and the Board of Trustees concurred.
Aside from the many merits of Robinson’s projection, I was pleased with the decision for a personal reason. When I was a graduate student, dealing with us department of education student loan consolidation in the 1960s, Arthur Robinson had opened my eyes to the importance of map projections. Robinson conveyed an irrepressible enthusiasm for maps, and he still does. As he told me recently, “I’ve always studied map projections for serious reasons, and sometimes just for fun.”
Recognized as the dean of American university cartographers, Robinson began his influential career during World War II, when he directed the Map Division in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). His idea of a new projection for a world map sprang directly from work on a geography textbook in the late 1950s, but he says the seeds were sowed during the war.