New this Weekend

“Human Footprint” and “Library of Congress Experience”
debut this weekend.

It’s April, and spring is in the air! In Washington, D.C.,
that means the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. If you’re in town for the
festival, you might be interested to check out the some of the new exhibits
downtown–IF you can bear to step inside, that is.

The “Library of Congress Experience” exhibit opens at the Library of Congress Jefferson
building this weekend. I was lucky enough to attend a special sneak-preview
press event earlier this week and was extraordinarily impressed with the new,
interactive displays. The “experience” currently features four installments:
“Thomas Jefferson’s Library,” “Creating the United States,” the Gutenberg and Giant Mainz Bibles,
and “Exploring the Early Americas.”

My favorite, of course, was “Exploring the Early Americas,”
which spotlights the 1507 Waldsemüller map–the first to identify “America.” I’ve
wanted to see this map since I first wrote about it in December, and I
was not disappointed! It was both humbling and amusing to see the northern and
southern landmasses of the western hemisphere depicted as thin slivers against
the backdrop of the imposing Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and
the better-known (at the time) European, Asian, and African continents. Because
the map is encased in a dimly lit, temperature-controlled glass structure to
protect against damage, an interactive computer touch screen helps to enhance
the viewing experience. Digitized to an astonishing level of detail, visitors
can zoom in for a closer look at small sections of the map and learn facts
surrounding its creation. Did you know that Waldseemüller named the western
hemisphere “America” after
Amerigo Vespucci because he was the first to acknowledge Columbus’ discovery of the New World? This exhibit
reaffirmed my deep appreciation for maps as cultural symbols and
perspective-shaping tools, which was embodied by a quote in the display:
“Mapping is fundamental to the process of lending order to the world (Robert
Rundstrum, 1926).”

Teachers: Get standards-based
lesson plans for the Waldseemüller map and other Library of
Congress resources and exhibits.

Students: Participate
in the Library’s “Inspiration Across the Nation” campaign by submitting
your stories, poems, and artwork. They’ll be incorporated into an online
mosaic, and the best will be displayed in the library’s permanent collection.

Parents: Personalize
your family’s “Library of Congress Experience.” Later in 2008, visitors to the
library will receive “Passports to Knowledge” with individualized bar
codes. Swiping the barcode as you travel through the museum creates an online cache of favorite exhibits, so you continue the learning from home!

April is the month of Earth Day, a time when citizens are
inspired to care about the planet and think critically about their impact on
the world. Part of the new “Preserve our Planet” initiative, a National
Geographic Channel special called “Human Footprint” helps to
conceptualize this impact through creative visuals. Did you know that the
average American consumes 43,471 cans of soda over the course of a lifetime? In
“Human Footprint” all 43,471 cans of soda are laid out to give viewers a sense
of what that actually looks like, and to spur contemplation over consumption
choices. Visit the Human Footprint website to calculate your own impact (I was
happy to discover that I will only drink about 4000 cans in my lifetime) and
for educator resources. And be sure
to watch the special when it airs this Sunday, April 13, at 9pm on the National
Geographic Channel.

 Have a great weekend everyone!

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