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Profile: Bob Abramms ’76G, ’80G
Mapping a point of view

– Janine Tangney ’03

Bob Abramms
Bob Abramms, ’76G, ’80G and his Hobo-Dyer map, dislodging our preconceptions. (photo by Ben Barnhart)
IMAGINE SITTING IN AN ELEMENTARY school classroom learning about world geography. The teacher pulls down a wall map. And lo and behold, Australia is on top!

This isn’t the way children are usually taught geography, but Bob Abramms, who has commissioned an innovative new map of the world called the Hobo-Dyer map, thinks perhaps it should be. Abramms bustled around the Ten Thousand Villages store in Northampton last fall, hanging up maps that would be used in a presentation to introduce people to new ways of thinking. Abramms showcased maps representing different views of the world, something he considers essential to understanding and embracing diversity.

It is impossible to have a truly accurate flat map of the world, he said, because of the problems created by making a round object flat. If the continents are given their accurate shape, then their area will be distorted.” All maps have a point of view,” he said. Some cartographers choose to emphasize shape, others area, others populations, and so on.

Abramms first hung the most popular map in North America: the Mercator map, commonly used in classrooms as an accurate picture of the world. On the Mercator projection, created in 1569, Greenland appears to be the size of Africa, even though Africa is more than 14 times larger.

“Gerardus Mercator meant for this to be used as a navigational tool,” Abramms said. “If he knew how this was being used today, he would roll over in his grave and say ‘Oy vay! Vat is this!’”

Abramms then put up maps designed to introduce people to alternative views of the world, including a Toronto-centered map, which shows a person exactly how far it is from Toronto to any place on earth. “Is this a good map?” Abramms asked. “Of course. It’s a great map for a specific purpose.”

People started pouring into the store to tour the maps. “Hey, which of these is accurate?” a voice called out. “They’re all accurate from different points of view,” Abramms replied cheerily, and as he bounced from map to map, describing the benefits and disadvantages of each.

Abramms began his undergraduate career at Northeastern University, graduating with a B.S. in industrial engineering in 1973. He came to UMass, earning his M.S. in business administration in 1976, an M.Ed. in counseling and an Ed.D. in applied behavioral sciences in 1980.

In the 1970’s he founded O.D.T., Inc, in Amherst, which aims to expand diversity in the workforce. The company began by offering cultural diversity programs and management training programs to companies. The maps were used as mind-expanding tools.

“We’d use the alternative maps to shock them into seeing things from different perspectives,” Abramms said. O.D.T. began selling maps, and today 95 percent of the company’s business is in the distribution of maps.

Howard Bronstein ’74, president of O.D.T., joined Abramms’ team in 1985 doing marketing part-time. Soon after, in 1988, the company incorporated, and the business has been growing ever since, Bronstein said.

Abramms and Bronstein commissioned the Hobo-Dyer map in April 2002, an equal-area projection map printed on two sides. On one side, the map is printed south-up and centered in the Pacific Ocean, and the other side is printed north-up and Africa-centered. The name “Hobo” is a combination of Howard and Bob’s names, and “Dyer” is the cartographer, Mick Dyer.

“Here’s the hot news!” Abramms said. The Carter Institute used the map in its media materials when Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2002. The map indicates the 65 countries in the world in which the Carter Center has worked since 1982.

Abramms believes that to see the truth, one has to be willing to look at the world from many different perspectives. “It’s a reason that the Hobo-Dyer should be in every classroom on our planet!”


O.D.T. is the publisher of a new book, Seeing Through Maps, which features many of the maps shown during Abramms’ presentation. The book is available through O.D.T.’s Web site, www.odt.org.


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In Memoriam

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