Envisioning Information Class Visit to the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center and Mapparium

On Monday, Ms. Rangel and Dr. Al-Khalili took their Envisioning Information and G block Biology classes on a field trip into Boston to visit the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library and the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. While at the library, they explored the Leventhal map room, and participated in a program designed just for our two classes. Students explored and compared maps illustrating different types of data, such as the depletion of the bison populations over time, then looked at how historic insurance maps were used to show data in Boston neighborhoods. After working with maps with partners, the group visited Building Blocks: Boston Stories from Urban Atlases, the current exhibit in the Leventhal Map Room’s gallery. 

The Mapparium at the Christian Science Library, not to be confused with the Church of Scientology, was built in 1935 and is acoustically designed so that whispers travel throughout the space as loudly as using a microphone; the students were amazed by how dramatically sound and their voices echoed. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, but some of the differences they noted from present-day geography were the changes in the political boundaries since the early 1930’s. The Mapparium globe showed most of Africa as it was at that time — colonized. Finally, no arrival at the Mapparium is complete without checking out the fancy, award-winning bathroom!

Outside the Mapparium, the students encountered an exhibit entitled “Our World: Mapping Progress,” which was designed to foster hope for the future. Students approached the board where they could leave messages in response to various prompts, for example, “What are you grateful for?” and “What does forgiveness mean to you?” These responses were left on the wall as “seeds of hope.” Some students left some notes of their own. In response to the exhibit, one student noted, “The Mapparium gave me an awareness of parts of the world that are often disregarded. There were so many interactive stories and infographics I could read. It was touching because they made it human. Hardships real people have endured. I have been doing research on some of the topics I learned about out of pure curiosity.”

After the Mapparium, the group took the green line from the Prudential building straight to North Station where they got on the commuter rail, enjoyed the voice of the singing conductor, and returned safely home!