1500: Upside-Down Map

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Upside-Down Map
Due to their proximity across the channel, there's long been tension between North Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland.
Title text: Due to their proximity across the channel, there's long been tension between North Korea and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland.


This comic plays on the idea that maps with the south pole at the top will "change your perspective of the world". Most world maps orient north in the upward direction, placing the north pole as the top. Such an orientation is purely a matter of convention, as 'up' and 'down' don't apply in a planetary context. The north = up tradition probably emerged because most historical cartographers hailed from the northern hemisphere, and placed their own nations at the top. Some people and groups object that this convention subtly, but perniciously, advances the assumption that countries in the northern hemisphere are inherently more important than those in the southern hemisphere. This is especially sensitive because most of the wealthier and more powerful countries in the world are in the northern hemisphere, while relatively fewer southern hemisphere countries have as much wealth or global influence. Early maps had eastern Asia oriented at the top of the map, beyond Israel and the Holy Land in the middle, and western Europe at the bottom.

To remedy this, some advocate the use of maps with the south pole oriented at the top. Some want such maps in common use, while others simply use them to encourage people to rethink their assumptions about how the world should be seen. Such a map can easily be achieved by simply rotating a normal map 180 degrees, though the text labels would also be upside-down and harder to read. A Google Images search reveals many examples of upside-down maps with the text-oriented correctly for reading.

This map is a comedic play on such maps, where each landmass is in the same position it would be in a traditional north-top map but rotated 180 degrees (presumably around some central point of the landmass) to the orientation it would have in a south-top map. Such a map is, of course, almost completely useless in real life, because it completely distorts the relative positioning of the landmasses. Moreover, it keeps the northern countries at the top of the map, which means one of the chief complaints about traditional maps is unaddressed.

Note that individual islands are rotated about their own centers, rather than following the rotation of the neighboring continent; however, some are displaced as necessary to keep them from being overlapped by the rotated continents. For instance, Madagascar would be overlapped by the Sahara if it remained in position, but is instead displaced eastward to keep it in the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, all the islands of the Mediterranean Sea have disappeared under Asia.

Asia is so broad that almost the entire Indochinese Peninsula (with for instance Vietnam and Thailand) has been rotated out of the top of the map. Similarly, the map omits Antarctica in the south.

To keep their familiar shapes on a rectangular map, the continents would also have to be heavily distorted compared to their actual shapes, becoming much narrower (along the lines of latitude) near the poles and wider towards the equator. See also 977: Map Projections.

The basic climates for several areas would be distinctly different. For example, the former Central America area would be in the arctic zone, while Siberia would be subtropical.

This arrangement of the world's landmasses would have great advantages for trade because there are (presumably navigable) straits between the Americas and between Africa and Asia, removing the need for the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal.

The title text references the fact that, in this new map, the UK is now next to Asia – specifically the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is mentioned in the text as having a history of hostile relations with nearby countries. However, on this map North Korea would be the part of Korea we today know as South Korea. Furthermore, Northern Ireland is now at the south of the island of Ireland, so the UK's full name would need to change to The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Southern Ireland. There have been several wars concerning the English Channel, mainly, but not only, between England and France. Likewise, there has been a history of animosity between Korea and Japan, separated by a similar body of water. Since, on this world map, a channel now exists between the UK and North Korea (the real world's South Korea) there could obviously have been many wars for the dominance over the said channel.

Along the same line of thinking, interesting speculations could be made about the following "new" facts:


[Map of the world with all the landmasses rotated upside-down.]
[Four oceans and all the visible continents have been named in large letters in a bold font. The Pacific has been named both to the left and right. Several islands (large and small) have been designated with name but in grey and in a much smaller normal font. For all continents the names are written on them. For the island the name is written in the ocean except for Greenland.]
[Below the names on the map are given in the order they appear reading from left to right, first for the northern and then the southern hemisphere:]
[Northern hemisphere:]
North America
Atlantic Ocean
Sri Lanka
Arctic Ocean
Pacific Ocean
[Southern hemisphere:]
Pacific Ocean
South America
Tierra del Fuego
Indian Ocean
New Zealand
[Below the main frame:]
This upside-down map will change your perspective on the world!


Map projections are also the subject of 977: Map Projections. In fact, if this comic was released later, it would certainly have "Bad Map Projection #n" on the top, and would be part of the category.

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In my opinion, part of the joke which is hinted at but never explicitly stated in the explanation, is that normal south-up orientation maps are just as "correct" as their north-up counterparts, but they still appear "wrong" to us. The fact that correctly projected south-up maps feel "wrong" supposedly reveals some deep-seeded biases about how we view the world, or at least shows that we have very limited and rigid worldviews. The joke here is that this map isn't just showing the world differently, it's blatantly distorting the geography of the entire planet. At a glance, you may think it's a typical south-up map, but the humor is revealed as you notice all the new associations created by the rotation. 14:13, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

Australia is still the "right" way up! -- Thematkinson (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

No it is not. But Tasmania stays put as it is an island. Maybe that has caused some confusion? --Kynde (talk) 10:46, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
What sort of projection have you been looking at if you think these three look the same when rotated 180 degrees? I'd forgive someone for thinking that about New Guinea, but for the other three it just seems laughable. Especially if you know what "map of Tasmamia" is slang for. 14:13, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

"People often say that maps with the south pole at the top will change your perspective." Is this really something that people often say? I've never heard anyone say it... --Pudder (talk) 10:06, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

I have heard it... --Kynde (talk) 10:46, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
I agree with Pudder. Who are these people and how often to they say it? Explanation edited. - Equinox 15:23, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
I disagree, I NEVER heard it until NOW in XKCD. ( 21:18, 23 March 2015 (UTC))

Is perhaps the comic's explanation about a previous map version? The comment about Australia being the normal way is wrong. 10:10, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

could be - I see Australia as being pivoted just like all the other continents (?) -- Brettpeirce (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Agreed - see my comment above when this was first mentioned here. Now it has been corrected in the explain. --Kynde (talk) 10:46, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Should the title text not say South Korea, rather than North Korea? 10:41, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Well it is North Korea we have issues with today. But maybe it is not the former South Korea instead...? --Kynde (talk) 10:46, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

UK was rotated, Japan was not rotated. Sardinia, Cyprus and other are missing. Hmm... is it a pre-alpha release? 13:18, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Japan sure looks rotated. Maybe it just looks similar upside-down? 13:45, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
Japan is rotated. As a Sardinian, I noticed the absence of Sardinia (and Sicily) and now I'm wondering whether I'd live near Japan (my sister would be extremely happy about it) or near China 14:59, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
Then why northern Hokkaido is towards north, and only Honshu is rotated? 16:19, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
It is not that Japan is rotated. It is the individual island that are rotated. So the island to the north would still be to the north. And also this map is not so detailed that you can expect to see the difference if some fairly rotational symmetric islands are rotated. Also - thee are many islands that are not included. But for Sardinia and Cyprus. Since they are islands they will not be rotated with the Mediterranean Sea. So they would stay far away from Japan. Progably under some part of Asia where there is no seas to show them. The fact that many island must disappear after the rotation, and also the likeliness that some islands that are shown should have disappeared is mentioned in the explain --Kynde (talk) 18:33, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

The explanation is inaccurate in a few spots in the "jokes" section. Specifically, all the points that say "X is now on the east/west (formerly west/east) of Y" are inaccurate. The whole point is that the spatial relationships of the land masses are unchanged with respect to the cardinal directions. In other words, Cuba is still off the east coast of the US, it's just that Seattle is where Miami used to be. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Well someone changed this back from the true version. I have changed this back. Also the main part of this "joke" was that it was now next to the Canada. It would just be wrong to say it was only next to the Canada as was written originally, since it is next to the border between US and Canada. Made a small correction also for this to be more clear. --Kynde (talk) 18:37, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

I always wanted a height-inverted map (ocean trenches are mountain ridges, and vice-versa), with realistic national boundaries set upon the land (that was sea) based on where they might have existed in the sea (that, for us, is land). But I suppose one could go too far in such fripperies... ;) 14:44, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Hey, that would be pretty neat! Would your aim be to preserve the same total volume of seawater (ie., same km^3 quantity of water), or to preserve the same total land area? Because I think if you inverted the height, you'd wind up with a few extremely high mountainous landmasses and plateaus, and much of the rest would be pretty shallow seas. The highest mountain range would be the Marianas.  :) - 19:12, 2 April 2015 (UTC)

I thought this was a reference to clickbait based on the caption, where you are told it will change your perspective, and it didn't, it was just a stupid map. 16:19, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

I agree. It also relates to the discussion almost at the top of this section regarding this phrase being common or not. I have never seen it, but given it's "Buzzfeedness", and what I know about the Internet, I imagine it must be a pretty common phrase. 00:35, 13 December 2015 (UTC)

Yay comic 1500! 17:48, 18 March 2015 (UTC) or 12:48, 18 March 2015 (EDT)

It's not on the map, but I'm curious what happens to Antarctica in this little exercise? 17:05, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Not that much probably since it is faily centered on the pole and except for one "tail" it is rather rotational symmetric. --Kynde (talk) 18:40, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

What's the island southwest of Newfoundland? It looks large for Prince Edward Island, and most of Nova Scotia isn't an island. 19:08, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

While Randall will know which squiggles arise from which real-world features, I reckon there'll be some contention regarding the small islands, given the resolution of the 'pen and ink' sketch doesn't do justice to the smallest (and often least familiar, to start with) perimiter-shapes. I've just gone and edited the bit about "The Falkland Islands" (mainly because I didn't like the technical "it is", grammatically... maybe the better solution would have been for me to just to have made it "The Falkland Islands group|archipelago", though) and while I was there allowed for the fact that it's actually hard to say what that single island blob is precisely intended to be representative of. Note all the other little rocks also out there (but not generally lumped into the same island group), like South Georgia, and the nigh-on numberless ones of similar scale elsewhere around the planet, like the Canaries. Or the Hawaiian islands (if those aren't represented by the above-questioned blob). 19:18, 18 March 2015 (UTC)
Wouldn't it be rather Colombia and maybe Venezuela that could claim the Falklands? Ecuador and especially Peru are way too in the North I think. --Nezmo (talk) 21:02, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

Can someone explain why an upside down map changes your perspective? I've seen many before but no explanation of why it is any different. 07:19, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

There are three main reasons I have heard for upside down maps changing one's perspective, although only the first one is inherently a question of vertical orientation. 1) We associate up-ness with superiority. Because we read top down and therefore habitually see what's at the top of a page as being first, but also as evidenced by phrases like "things are looking up", "at the top of her field", "coming out on top", "high up in the organisation", "top of the food chain", etc. etc. Wikipedia mention this in their page on South-up Map Orientations, and cite a paper "Spatial Metaphor and Real Estate North–South Location Biases Housing Preference", which claims to have demonstrated it with various studies. You can google the paper and read its abstract for free. 2) The fact that most maps one sees in Europe put Europe in the centre makes everything else seem a bit peripheral. 3) The projection increases the size of countries towards the top and bottom of the map, relative to those in the middle, so that, for example, Greenland and Africa look about the same size, when really Africa is 14 times larger (that factoid comes from an article in The Economist entitled "The True True Size of Africa"). Although this doesn't significantly increase the relative size of Europe and America, because they're about in the middle, it does make e.g. Canada and Russia seem much larger than they are, and massively diminish the relative size of Africa. I imagine, speculatively, that this could be a big deal for Africans who feel that the importance of their continent is overlooked. (I'm not familiar with the protocol on this page, so I haven't included links to the articles I mentioned, but anyone who wants to can easily do so.) 10:53, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

In my opinion, the point of this comic is an observation of a fact how much of our deep-rooted and regarded as inevitable inter-human dealings and problems are utterly determined by purely random factors such as Earth plate tectonics and the actual nick of time (in the geological scale) at which human civilization developed into a global one. -- 12:50, 19 March 2015 (UTC)

I interpreted it as a reference to the book by (recently deceased) Terry Pratchett, 'Nation', one of the messages of which was "changing the way you look at the map changes your perspective". (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Chile is rotated, but "Tierra del fuego" part of Chile and Argentina is not moved, and missing the divition on Chile and Argentina sides, and named "Tierra del fuego" rater than "chile" "argentina", so there is either Randall not remmember that "tierra del Fuego" is either that island and to some extent a liitle of the sourth cone of Chile/Argentina after the Patagonia or think in it a a holw different countrie or something else. ( 21:18, 23 March 2015 (UTC))

I also note that we have acquired a new set of islands off the (now) west coast of Florida, perhaps these were the San Juan and other Seattle-area islands? OTOH, we seem to have lost the Florida Keys entirely, which is a shame ... I enjoy thinking about what Key West would be like if it were way at the end of 150 miles of bridges from Seattle. Miamiclay (talk) 15:53, 26 March 2015 (UTC)

Did anyone else have problems understanding upsidedown as rotated 180 degrees? For me, upsidedown would be flipped, that is, left / right would stay but up /down would switch (with the "back" side now being to the front). (Imagine the continents as puzzle pieces.) I looked at this, and was confused by why in addition to being upsidedown, the continents were also flipped left to right... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

A few Indonesian Islands are still the right way up!

Poor Aussies have once again been relegated to the cartographic netherworlds of the lower right-hand corner. ---Callejera

I just realized the Mediterranean islands would be in the upper right Arctic Ocean. 09:41, 22 July 2015 (UTC) What's the point? 09:59, 18 March 2015 (UTC)

They're there because if not they'd disappear beneath Asia. Also, Randall marked Taiwan on the map. Herobrine (talk) 07:42, 7 April 2018 (UTC)

Just noticed that there is no border shown between France and Spain. Others that appear missing apart from some very small states? should this be mentioned? --Lupo (talk) 10:12, 9 March 2020 (UTC)

what are the islands a bit lower than germany -- Sci0927 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The Philippines, I think you mean. As a 'large island, a lot of little islands and another large island' (at this level of rough-drawn detail, more or less) on a NNW/SSE-ish axis it doesn't look flipped unless you obsess about the details. Below/left of this group are Borneo and Indonesia, individually flipped (more obviously so) but relatively positioned as 'normal'. 19:26, 1 February 2022 (UTC)