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Whazzup? North

Matt:

On a recent road trip I was navigating while my friend drove. At one point, I turned the map upside down, since we were going south and I was having trouble remembering to switch what looked like a right turn on the map into "turn left" as I was giving directions. All this leads to my question. Why are all maps oriented to the north? Who started that and why?

-- Robert, trippin'

The guys who win wars get to write history; the guys who live at the center of recorded civilization get to draw the maps. Most scholars credit Ptolemy in the second century A.D. with setting north as the standard orientation, though maps of one sort or another had existed for at least a thousand years. Ptolemy was a Greek, living in Egypt; and as if he didn't have enough on his mind, what with his astronomy and math studies, he decided to catalog all the previous Greek knowledge of the geography of our spherical earth. He added a grid system, like our latitude and longitude, and even compensated on his flat maps for the tendency of land near the poles to appear larger than life. No one can crawl into Ptolemy's brain and poke around looking for the logic file on why north is up, but scholars speculate that putting the Northern Hemisphere at the top of the page made the maps easier to use. Most of the known world was there, the top of a page is more important than the bottom, so why cram the Roman Empire down at the bottom of the page? If most of civilization lived in Lapland, maybe all our maps would have south at the top. Ptolemy's studies of astronomy might have played a part in the decision too. At any rate, his maps were very influential until the Middle Ages, when the Church decreed the world was flat and square. Once we got past that one, it was back to north-at-the-top maps. Australia is too small and too far away to complain.

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Matt:

On a recent road trip I was navigating while my friend drove. At one point, I turned the map upside down, since we were going south and I was having trouble remembering to switch what looked like a right turn on the map into "turn left" as I was giving directions. All this leads to my question. Why are all maps oriented to the north? Who started that and why?

-- Robert, trippin'

The guys who win wars get to write history; the guys who live at the center of recorded civilization get to draw the maps. Most scholars credit Ptolemy in the second century A.D. with setting north as the standard orientation, though maps of one sort or another had existed for at least a thousand years. Ptolemy was a Greek, living in Egypt; and as if he didn't have enough on his mind, what with his astronomy and math studies, he decided to catalog all the previous Greek knowledge of the geography of our spherical earth. He added a grid system, like our latitude and longitude, and even compensated on his flat maps for the tendency of land near the poles to appear larger than life. No one can crawl into Ptolemy's brain and poke around looking for the logic file on why north is up, but scholars speculate that putting the Northern Hemisphere at the top of the page made the maps easier to use. Most of the known world was there, the top of a page is more important than the bottom, so why cram the Roman Empire down at the bottom of the page? If most of civilization lived in Lapland, maybe all our maps would have south at the top. Ptolemy's studies of astronomy might have played a part in the decision too. At any rate, his maps were very influential until the Middle Ages, when the Church decreed the world was flat and square. Once we got past that one, it was back to north-at-the-top maps. Australia is too small and too far away to complain.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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