Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Architecture, The Prime Meridian and the Importance of Maps

August 22, 2009 · 1 Comment

Recently I travelled with my class to Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian and other famous sites in the town. Instead of taking the tube, we travelled in style, hopping on a boat that took us down the Thames. As we motored down the river, I was beset on all sides with proof that London is truly a town of ever-changing ideas and time periods. Tall and majestic 17th century churches rode right up against uniform concrete estates. In what once was a warehouse district stoop a massive ziggurat-like structure all consisting of flats with views of the Thames. And in walking distance of Greenwich was the monstrously expensive and ugly birthday cake of the Millennium dome. What was once supposed to be a way to promote development in the surrounding area, the Dome stands surrounded by forlorn construction sites.

Once in Greenwich, the scenery took a turn for the better. Beautiful old houses lined the streets and the incredible sites such as the Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, and the Astronomy Museum were all in shouting distance of each other. After a short hike up a tall hill in the beautiful Greenwich Park, we stopped at the royal observatory and the Prime Meridian. After the obligatory group photo, we were left to our own devices to explore the nearby museums. It was in the Royal Observatory that I learned a bit of the history of the invention of longitude. Perfected by a British clockmaker, longitude allowed mariners to master sea travel and cartography. It should come as no surprise then that the origin point of longitude, the Prime Meridian, should be at any other place than England. Because the English were the first to discover it, England was able to place itself, more specifically its capital, at the origin of everything. It is simply startling to think that things we take to be true without bias, such as the orientation of maps, can be so heavily influenced by nations attempting to gain influence.

Categories: Paul
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1 response so far ↓

  •   schaefau // Aug 23rd 2009 at 03:52

    It’s so true- something that seems so real on its own accord is actually just as susceptible to politics as anything else. It makes you wonder, if even longitude can be determined politically, what, if anything, can escape such a fate?

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