Where is the centre of the map?

After I posted my second post on a sense of place  my partner drew my attention to the geometry of my map. Indeed the screen shot of my Google tour was akin to the image of geometry I included from Wikipedia, but what was fascinating for him was the where the centre of the map was/is. Since I started my life in Vancouver Canada and have now returned here for the present time should that not be the centre of my map? I could manipulate the view, as you will see if you visit the tour, but I had selected the screen shot with Europe and Africa at the centre. Was this a conscious decision? Was I projecting into the map my cultural draw or is it simply that all through primary, secondary and third level education maps have been represented to me with Europe at the centre. Must I  delve into a discussion on post-colonial theory and why maps historically were drawn from a Euro-centric? Others have gone before and I will not reinvent the wheel but rather encourage you to explore. It is pertinent to the discussion that we understand how much of an impact being colonized continues to have on how peoples and nations view the world. I had a interesting discussion this past week with a student of mine who comes from a First Nations community in Canada about mapping and indigenous communities. It began as we were discussing a paper which focuses on community mapping, a research tool which has become especially popular in Action and Participatory Research projects. We were addressing whether the exercise of asking communities to draw their perception of their land/community/region was indeed a participatory exercise in the true sense as traditionally different communities/peoples/cultures have very different ways of understanding the world. I know growing up in Africa that there were certainly no street names or directions except those reminiscent of the British colonial rule. A fantastic App has just been developed in Ghana to try and address this issue given the centrality of technology in contemporary times. In Ireland directions are only used in Dublin to understand perceived social class in terms of if you a North Dub or a South Dub. Certainly, I have had to adjust and learn the concept of North, South, East, West here in North America, and am still constantly amazed with how it is used in everyday speak. The discussion brought up by my student made me reflect on how we take certain maps and ways of understanding boundaries of place for granted. Whose map is it anyways? The ability to create our own Google maps or other forms of digital visualization of places is giving us more creative freedom than the Atlases of old where place appeared static.

Returning to my own screen grab of my Google Tour – what if I were to place my place of birth and my current location (both the same) at the centre of the map? The exercise of writing this post brought me to the realization that putting my homes as points on a map simply made the map seem more arbitrary than it already was. When I think about my connections with family and friends in different communities across the globe it is not by the place they are in as a location on the map, but rather as a network of connections not grounded in place with me at the centre reaching out to them. Maps help us to navigate place but we must be aware of how that place is understood differently not only by different cultures and communities but also from individual to individual based on their life experiences.


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