The Mapparium

Seeing, or even thinking about, the whole world isn’t something we do often. I don’t know about other people, but I definitely don’t look at maps just for fun. In fact, many of us don’t consider where we are very often at all.

Growing up in Austin, Texas, I constantly put my life in the context of place. Life in Austin was in many ways framed around the idea of living in a proud blue city encased within a prouder red state. I knew that certain values of mine were punched up by the place I lived. When I went to college in Los Angeles, I was fascinated by the all of the cultural differences I observed just by moving halfway across the country. My “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” manners, respected and appreciated in Austin, were now an insult. The way people talked to each other was different. And, to my horror, nobody had heard of queso. Now I live in Boston, where I am again highly aware of how life is affected by living on the east coast, in New England, in America’s first city. (And still nobody wants to hear “yes ma’am” or “yes sir.”) I think it’s all so fascinating.

Today I took a friend to a place called the Mapparium, which is a giant glass globe created to scale (1 inch=22 miles). It lives inside of a museum, where visitors can walk through and, in a way, stand inside the world. It was fascinating. I stood, looking around at places I’d been, places I wanted to go, places that were bigger or smaller than I had realized, places that I hadn’t ever heard of. Suddenly I was exploring, and an enormous hunger to do more hit me hard.

A short presentation graced us with some of the prominent voices of various countries in the world. The presentation remarked that humans all make our home here, we just all do it a little differently. It showed how many countries used democracy when the globe was created (1935) and how many use it now (hint: lots more).

It’s not often that we think of the world as one place, unified by the people who change it. I myself have spent the last several years as an amateur anthropologist, finding nothing but differences between cities in the same country. And i find all of that fascinating, but what if that’s not the best way to look at it?

What if we looked at similarities across nations instead of differences? What if we tried more to learn about what we have in common? I can see that helping in areas as diverse as international relations and medicine.

Standing inside the Mapparium made me feel like I wanted to do something about the fact that I live in a great big wonderful world. It made me want to get out and explore it, to learn as much as I could about everywhere from New Zealand to Egypt to Lithuania. It made me feel connected to others, like a citizen of the world. Because that’s what we all really are. We each do it our own way, but we’re all just people living in this big ball that we call the world.

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One comment

  1. Ms. Savage · January 6, 2015

    The Mapparium is somewhere I can’t wait to see! I grew up looking at maps and have a nearly photographical memory of places I spend some time studying, especially if I’m in that place and can walk the lines I’m observing from “over head”. It was a really important skill my dad encouraged me to exercise. I spend hours on Google Earth crawling around the world, “discovering” new places and being stunned by geographical change. Countries that are entirely desert, or that have a little of everything. The nothing that is so much of Russia and the condensed grid that sprawls across the United Kingdom. I do find it interesting that there is so much at odds with each other, when more benefit could come from unity. But you have to look at how the various cultures evolved, where they originated from, and what mentalities are not meshing. It’s all a bit overwhelming.

    Look up Lauterbrunnen. That was my most recent map stumble-upon, and it really gave me a sense of awe and possibility.

    Love reading your blogs as always –

    Like

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