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Geography Trivia: Chester A. Arthur and the Prime Meridian

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

These days, the average person takes for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another. Most of us don’t even need maps when traveling. We have GPS technology in our cars and GPS Apps on our phones that tell us which direction to go and where to turn and when we will arrive at our destination. Our phones even change the time for us when we enter in to a new time zone. But, this was not always the case.

The prime meridian is a great circle drawn on maps and globes of the Earth that passes through the North and South Poles, separating the globe into two hemispheres: East and West. This prime meridian passes through Greenwich, England. Governments, however, did not always agree that the Greenwich meridian was the prime meridian, making navigation and time standardization very difficult. Sea navigation, as well as the astronomical charting of stars, usually remained a matter of local, national or sometimes even religious preference. Maps could be based on longitude east or west of St. Petersburg, Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, the Canary Islands or Washington D.C. Needless to say, all of these prime meridians led to a massive amount of international confusion. Although latitude (North and South) had always been measured from the Equator, there was no equivalent point from which to measure longitude.

The beginning of the 19th Century saw calls for unification and the adoption of one common meridian. But the problem was not one of geographical location alone; it was also linked to the measurement of time. To standardize one, would require the standardization of the other.

The Prime Meridian

The Prime Meridian Photo via NASA [Public Domain]

By the 1870s, with the increasing use of rail transportation, there was intense pressure both to establish a prime meridian for worldwide navigation purposes and to unify local times for railway timetables. Great Britain had already solved this problem by using the Greenwich Meridian to standardize its time zones. In the United States, the problem with time standardization was more complicated, with one railroad timetable showing over 100 local times varying by more than 3 hours. President Chester A. Arthur decided he had had enough. He called for an International Meridian Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. in October 1884, to determine a prime meridian for international use. Specifically, the Conference was to hammer out the choice of “a meridian to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world.”

Delegates from 25 countries attended the Conference. The Conference established that the meridian passing through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich would be the Earth’s prime meridian, and all longitude would be calculated both east and west from it up to 180 degrees. The Conference also established Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a standard for astronomy and the setting of time zones.

Standing on the Greenwich Meridian

One Can Stand in Both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres Astride the Greenwich Meridian [Photo via Wikimedia Commons] (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This semester, there are two good reasons for Geography teachers to tell students about the 1884 International Meridian Conference: 1. It is a very interesting topic, and. 2. How often do Geography teachers get to mention Chester A. Arthur in class? Teachers can have their students use eLibrary to find out more about the Prime Meridian and other Geography-related topics.

If you do not have a subscription to ProQuest products, you can get a free trial here.

Trivia Time:

  • In addition to sporting some very flashy sideburns, by all accounts, Chester A. Arthur’s presidency was a popular and successful one. In fact, after Arthur’s death in 1885, Mark Twain wrote of him: “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s Administration.” The New York World also wrote of Arthur’s time in office: “No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation.”
  • The prime meridian also sets Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC never changes for daylight savings time. Just as the prime meridian is the standard for longitude, UTC is the standard for time. All countries and regions measure their time zones according to UTC.
  • The vote to select Greenwich at the 1884 Conference passed 22 to 1, with San Domingo (Dominican Republic) voting against and both France and Brazil abstaining.

CultureGrams Teaching Activity: The World Game

Looking for new ways to incorporate CultureGrams into the classroom? Look no further than CultureGrams’ collection of over 75 teaching activities! This collection of educationally engaging activities is organized by grade level and activity type. Each activity includes an objective, curriculum standard correlations, a list of materials needed, the amount of time required to do the activity, instructions, and extension activities. These activities help promote critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving.

If you don’t have access to CultureGrams, enjoy this free teaching activity today and sign up for a free trial of the product to access more.

The World Game

Grade level: K–5

Objective:
Students will develop basic map skills and learn about the worldwide appeal of soccer.

 


Time requirement:
Preparation: 40 minutes
In-class: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Materials:
CultureGrams Kids Edition
CultureGrams Online World Edition regional maps:
North America
South America
Europe
Africa
Asia
Oceania

Instructions
1. Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of four regions:

  • North and South America
  • Europe
  • Africa
  • Asia and Oceania

2. For each region, print out a list of the countries in the Kids Edition. Have each group locate
these countries on the regional maps (listed above).

3. Have students access the “Games and Sports” page for each country on their list. Have them determine in which countries soccer is popular and highlight these countries on their regional maps. What number or percentage of the countries on their lists play soccer?

4. As a class, discuss their findings. Explore some reasons why soccer is such a popular sport around the globe (inexpensive to play, introduced by colonial powers, etc.).

5. During an international soccer competition (e.g., World Cup, UEFA European Championship, Africa’s Cup of Nations) assign each student a country to follow during the competition. Use the success of particular teams to launch a discussion about those countries. Internet sites that may be useful include:

International Football Federation (FIFA)
Union of European Football Associations
U.S. Soccer Federation

Image from CultureGrams Mozambique Slide Show “Homemade Soccer Ball.” Photo by Salym Fayad

 

CultureGrams Country Capital Quiz

 

Country Capitals Table

Data Table via ProQuest CultureGrams

Let’s begin the year with a geography challenge! How well do you know your country capitals? Identify the capital cities of the twenty countries listed below.

  1. Australia
  2. Belarus
  3. Canada
  4. Egypt
  5. Fiji
  6. Finland
  7. Haiti
  8. India
  9. Iraq
  10. Jordan
  11. Mongolia
  12. Poland
  13. Senegal
  14. South Korea
  15. Spain
  16. Thailand
  17. Turkey
  18. United Kingdom
  19. Venezuela
  20. Vietnam

How did you do? Answers will be posted in the comments section. To see a complete list of country capitals, see our Data Tables. And to learn much, much more about the countries of the world, visit us at CultureGrams!