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Why Google Maps get Africa wrong

James Wan

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FW:  April 9, 2014

From colonial cartographers to digital depictions the continent is being sold short, says Think Africa Press

Upside down world
Mercator map of the world, with Africa and south America on top.

About halfway through Jonathan Swift's boisterously witty epic poem On Poetry: A Rhapsody, the 18th century Anglo-Irish satirist briefly turns his attention to maps of Africa, writing:

So geographers, in Afric maps,

With savage pictures fill their gaps,

And o'er uninhabitable downs

Place elephants for want of towns.

In Swift's time, European explorers had only skirted around the coastal edges of Africa and its interior remained, to all intents and purposes, a mystery. But as the poet pointed out, rather than just leave the middle of the continent blank, mapmakers would instead "fill their gaps" with things they thought might reside in such exotic corners of the world, such as strange monkeys, roaming lions, and "elephants for want of towns."