Does History Explain Alternate Geographical Memories?

A West Wing clip highlights some issues that make accurate geography challenging. While this was intended as a humorous scene, some people get lost in the political implications, and label this “liberal propaganda.”

In the context of alternate geography, political agendas (if there are any) aren’t the point.  History — and how it might continue to influence our maps — is relevant.

Here’s the video:

So, I think we need to look at current maps for modern-day references, and then at old maps to see if our memories are based on them.

People have reported a variety of locations that have moved.

Maybe our “alternate” memories are based on older maps from childhood geography classes, and those maps have been corrected in recent years.

Let’s rule that out, and then dig deeper.

For example, related to our discussion of Sri Lanka’s location — where it is in relation to India — I’d double-check where it is on maps in this timestream.  The following map is provided courtesy of Google Maps, (c)2013.

Sri Lanka map, (c)2013, Google Maps.

The next is a topological map, courtesy of Uwe Dedering.

Sri Lanka, map courtesy of Uwe Dedering.


So, we know where the country is, and what it looks like, on today’s maps in this timestream.

Then, I’d look at old maps of Ceylon, an earlier name for Sri Lanka. I like to go back as far as I can, and then work forward to the 21st century.

The first map is dated around 1535, by Claudius Ptolemy. To determine the suggested location, a north-south orientation is needed.  First, look at where the mountains are, compared with current maps. Then, Indian geographical references must be used. (Click image to see this map, larger. Graphic will open in a separate tab or window.)


Based on the mountains, I’d guess that this showed Ceylon southwest of India. (Correct me if my reference points are wrong. I didn’t check the smaller islands indicated on that map, and they may suggest a different orientation.)

A map from around 1650 shows only the outline and geography of Ceylon, with no nearby land masses, except very small islands.  So, this map isn’t especially relevant to our study of Ceylon’s location in relation to India.

What caught my interest was how different the shape was, in this map.  I studied where the mountains are indicated, to get a sense of this map’s orientation. (This is one of several illustrations from Plantas das fortalezas, pagodes & ca. da ilha de Ceilão, a book by a cartographer and illustrator.)

Ceylon - 1650 map

Here’s another map from around 1700 – 1710, by Heinrich Scherer. Relative to India, this map suggests the southeast location indicated on maps in our current timestream. (This actual map came from the Maps Collection at the Library of Congress “American Memory” site.)

Ceylon in about 1702.

A 1733 map shows the same placement.

Ceylon map, 1733.

The really old maps are intriguing, but the earlier the map, the more questionable its accuracy.

It looks as if “alternate geography” memories of Sri Lanka’s location aren’t based on 20th century maps that were recently corrected. As far back as 1700 — and perhaps earlier — Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was represented at the southeast side of India.

4 thoughts on “Does History Explain Alternate Geographical Memories?

    1. Fiona Broome Post author

      Thanks, Peter! It’s helpful to have references that can help us sort our own errors, media misstatements, and “Mandela Effect” experiences into appropriate contexts.

  1. ars moriendi

    Its solved,.,idk why games arent effected by the mandela effect but if you look at lankas location you can see it is directly south of our memories recall…

  2. Gunther

    As a child, I was interested in geography — naming places and physical features of the planet, and correctly knowing where they were. I recall (no specific idea when) as a child, looking at maps of West Asia — Sri Lanka was *always* southwest of the tip of the Indian subcontinent — and not only lower, but father west in the Indian Ocean, too — and I remember noting its position relative to Madagascar and the East coast of Africa. I had to have seen these maps on multiple occasions.

    That position of the island was part of my mental template for all of West Asia, and whenever Sri Lanka came up in the news (mostly during its long civil war), that’s what I would remember. I never questioned that orientation; there was no reason to.

    When l saw a map showing the island south*east* of India, and closer to the continental coast, I was more than just surprised. Trying to sort out the cognitive dissonance of two distinct and different memories, I had an almost a physical sensation of trying to mentally conform to this ‘new’ position for Sri Lanka.

    I have memories of this same thing happening before over the years — not often, but I’m presented with something I know in my bones can’t be true, or real; then experiencing a physical sensation of confusion and tiredness as I tried holding both ideas about Some Thing in my mind. Eventually the current reality would win out. I’ve tried telling myself to remember, hold on to the dichotomy, but only end up feeling more foggy, spacy, tired.

    Some of those Things I recognized and then quickly forgot seemed more important and profound than what the actual position of Sri Lanka is — and why I have no trouble remembering that, I haven’t a clue.


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