(University of Duisburg‐Essen)
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How is our world view constructed? Beside the formative ideologies of the 20th century, what is conditioning our view on social, political, and economic lives? These questions were the lifelong focus of the West German historian Arno Peters (1916-2002). He crossed borders between West and East Germany, academic disciplines (history, cartography, economy), and different fields when he published a historical atlas (Synchronoptical World History, 1952 ff. ), drafted maps (Peters projection, 1974 ff.) and designed (but never realized) a so-called “Synchronoptikum” (mid-1960s to mid-1990s). Although he never wrote or published a classical historical work nor left an opus, his contemporaries called him a polyhistor.
In brief Peters’ aim was the equal representation of time and space in history and geography. He was vehement in his criticism of the Europe-centered character and constant use of the Mercator projection. Peters was a critic of the historical focus on the last 500 years of world history as well as its concentration on Western civilizations, and on politics. Both maps and history books mislead readers to accept Europe and Western civilizations as history’s core, thus leading to ignorance of ninety percent of world history and the majority of people living in the Southern hemisphere. Later he dealt with economics and developed a concept of a democratic economy, based on an equivalent exchange of goods. He identified modern societies with market economies as non-equivalent economies. The concept of equal representation of goods came high on Peters’ agenda, after time and space.
This article reviews the fields of Peters’ work, explicates his idea of world history, and gives a biographical sketch. While the Peters projection has widely been discussed and criticized, the paper focuses on the untranslated Synchronoptical World History, which reminds us of the 18th-century synchronistic tables. The design of a building (Synchronoptikum) resembling a panorama museum, characterized Peters as crossing the border between history as academic discipline and social intervention.