Envisioning Information Class Visits the Boston Public Library and the Mapparium

“It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words,” writes Ms. Cook, one of APH’s Science and Math teachers in a course description for her Envisioning Information class. “Images and models can communicate complex concepts and ideas in an efficient and powerful way. Maps, graphs, charts, memorials, and instructions are all designed to communicate an idea, philosophy, feeling or process in a limited space. What are the principles that govern good visual design? How can we determine if the information that an image is trying to convey is complete and/or accurate? How can we use words, numbers, color, fonts, space, and images to communicate data, ideas, emotions, and complex concepts?” The answers to these questions are discovered in Ms. Cook’s project-based Envisioning Information course, which strives to guide students as they consume and create informative and compelling graphs, maps, and images.

Last week, Ms. Cook and Ms. Clarke took the Envisioning Information class 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 in Boston. While at The Boston Public Library, they explored the Leventhal map room, including the Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception exhibit. There were two subway maps on the floor, one made to appear old and the other showing the transit desert. Both were the result of present-day data that the museum asked cartographers to represent in any way they chose. The students compared and contrasted the two and shared their findings with the group.

Some of the other interesting observations in the map room were that India was three times larger than what they had expected and how small the populations of Canada and Russia were in relation to their respective landmasses, and that each had vast rural areas. These comments were a result of contemplating a map that depicted populations using small, equal-sized cubes, which is why India looked so large, while Russia and Canada (which look big in typical maps as large landmasses) looked small in comparison due to their population size. Another interesting item in the exhibit was the first shot of Earth taken from the Moon, to which they posed the question, Is this even a map? They were tasked with finding a map that personally spoke to or interested them. Some students recalled that the Texas map showed that everything really was bigger in Texas! There was also a map of Acapulco that was heavily detailed with cartoonish advertising of brands such as Gucci and Ritz, showing that shopping and consumerism were emphasized much more than exploring the region.

After this, they walked to the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. 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 sound and their voices dramatically echoed. They had also expected to feel overstimulated, but instead, felt it was calming and meditative as the lights went down and the languages lit up. 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 colonized — and one student noted that the country of her ancestors, Armenia, did not even exist when the globe was made.

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.” Students were inspired by quotes they read, such as, “I forgive because I’ve been forgiven,” and left some heartfelt quotes of their own.