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History of the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning

The Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning (formerly Mercator Education) is part of a network of five research and documentation centres specializing in regional and minority languages within the European Union. The Mercator Network (named after Gerardus Mercator) was founded in 1987, as a direct result of the Kuijpers Resolution on the protection of the languages and cultures of regional minorities within the European Union. This resolution pointed out that EC Member State Governments and the European Commission should take positive action to recognize regional and minority languages.

The earliest European political involvement with lesser used languages dates back to October 1981, when the European Parliament adopted the Arfé Resolution. This enabled the European Commission to develop a program of activities in order to improve the position of the lesser used languages. The Arfé resolution has led to the establishment of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages in 1982 (EBLUL). The EBLUL is based in Dublin, Ireland and works closely together with the three Mercator centres (Mercator Research Centre, Mercator Media, Mercator Legislation) on the protection and promotion of regional and minority languages.

Since the foundation of Mercator Education, an extensive and extremely valuable network of experts and organisations in the field of minority languages and education has been established. Through this widespread network, which now also includes expertise from the newest member states, it has become possible for different language communities to exchange experiences and cooperate on a European level.

Gerardus Mercator

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), whose original name was Gerhard Kremer, is often referred to as the grandfather of modern map making. Regarding his importance for the history of cartography, he is compared to Ptolemy, the ancient scholar from Alexandria in Egypt. Mercator was born in Rupelmonde in Flanders and had studied geography, cartography and mathematics at the University of Leuven (Louvain) in Belgium. He is best known for a new mapping technique that bears his name, the Mercator projection. The quality of his maps made them a copy source for generations of mapmakers. He published his first map in 1537 at the age of 25 - a map of Palestine. From 1537 to 1540 Gerardus Mercator surveyed and mapped Flanders. In 1538 he made and published his first world map. It was based on the Ptolemy map. The maps by Ptolemy had been completely lost in Europe during the dark Middle Ages. Thanks to Arab scholars, some of the Ptolemy maps were saved and came back to Europe during the Renaissance period.

In 1552 Gerardus Mercator moved to Duisburg to evade religious persecution. In 1554 he produced a map of six panels of Europe. In 1568 Mercator used a new way of displaying a map with 90 degree parallel lines for the latitudes and meridians. This new technique was actually not invented by Mercator. But he was the first cartographer to apply it. The Mercator projection was a great progress for navigation on sea. Its disadvantage is the disproportion of size. The closer the area towards the poles, the larger it is in size. Greenland for instance is shown 16 times larges than in reality. Mercator's main work, a three volume world atlas, was published in several editions from 1585 on and beyond his death in 1594. Mercator then was the first to use the word atlas. In 1604 another famous cartographer, Jodocus Hondius had acquired Mercator's original plates and published several more editions. The subsequent generation of mapmakers more or less copied from Mercator's world atlas.