Digital Resources from the Boston Public Library Support Cartographic Explorations

Digital Resources from the Boston Public Library Support Cartographic Explorations

Maps are a fantastic tool for supporting children’s development of a sense of place. When shared at just the right moment, maps can help children to make development-related shifts in their understanding of their surroundings or can help bring clarity to misty understandings of distance and direction. In addition to having value as tools for community-based learning, though, maps can serve as catalysts for deep learning about human and natural history, cultural shifts, and the concept of (and reasons for) gradual change over time.

Using tools available through the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, families can begin to dig deep into these themes. Not limited simply to a collection of a few centuries’ worth of Massachusetts maps, however, the Leventhal Map Center’s online resources can be used to explore unexpected topics ranging from the evolution of feminism (through the current Women in Cartography exhibit) to socioeconomics (through studies of the center’s collection of land ownership maps). Filled with over 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases, the Leventhal Map Center offers only a small fraction of its holdings for use via the internet (just over one thirtieth), this tiny-in-comparison digital collection contains over 6,700 maps detailing locales from around the globe and dating back as far as the 15th century! 

Families looking to explore specific topics via close examination of maps can look to the center’s digitally accessible collection of lesson plans and curriculum units, which features over 100 lessons tailored to specific age groups and interests. To further supplement studies of specific topics using cartographic resources, families can explore the entire online collection by searching based on location, publisher, subject, author, date, and/or projection. Collection highlights (suggested for examination by the center’s librarians) include some of the world’s earliest printed maps, nautical charts from world exploration during the 16th and 17th centuries, and maps from both sides of the American Revolution, including proposals for colony and state boundaries.

Not only do studies of maps help to deepen learners’ understanding of place (their own place or the place(s) of others), but they can be an incredibly helpful tool for learners whose strengths best learning takes place via visual stimuli. Historical events, geographic context, and the changes that have taken place in landscapes over time (especially as caused by humans) can all be clearly seen through studies of maps – without reading any material to clarify.

For further map-centric studies, check out the Massachusetts state library’s digital collection of two centuries of Massachusetts maps, follow beloved book characters around the globe with Google Lit Trips, or deepen your sense of place within the universe by mapping the night sky. Parents looking to better understand the role that maps and mapmaking can play in both supporting children’s development and understanding stages of human development can look to the pages of David Sobel’s Mapmaking With Children: Sense of Place Education for the Early Years.

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