One Year of Remote Programming

ArticleAfter being closed for a year, we’ve built up a wealth of online offerings for you to use anytime!

Rachel Mead
March 22, 2021
719 words

In March of 2020, along with every other cultural institution in Boston and across the United States, we closed our doors to the public. And ever since, we’ve been online, reaching audiences through the wires while our gallery and collections sit silent. While we’ve missed being able to offer our exhibits and events in person, and we’re also excited for the day that we get to see you all again in Copley Square, our small team has thrown ourselves into digital work. Thanks to the many collections we already had digitized and the digital skills of our staff, we now have more resources than ever for you to use from home. Here’s a roundup of some highlights of our “life online” in the past year.

Bending Lines

Our exhibit Bending Lines opened last year online, instead of in person, after the pandemic interrupted America Transformed. Bending Lines: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception is all about challenging the idea that maps are an inert and unbiased way of sharing information. Both exhibits exist online now, as do all our former exhibits! But while former exhibits are mostly online in the form of lists of objects and captions, Bending Lines was designed specifically for an online audience, with interactive material and an educational tour custom-designed for this show.

Because Bending Lines has been online for its whole existence, all the programming around the exhibit is also available online as well. This includes Angles on Bending Lines, a series of conversations with guests that take us deeper into critical approaches to maps and data.

We will actually be continuing Angles on Bending Lines this spring with a new series of talks! Stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, check out our curator Garrett Dash Nelson’s talk with Judith Tyner, the scholar who coined the term “persuasive cartography,” one of the the categories of maps that’s found all throughout Bending Lines:

Atlascope

Right before COVID, we started bringing our Atlascope tool to branch libraries of the BPL to show patrons how to use it to do historical geography research. You can play with Atlascope here or click through to the full version:

Not only have we been to nearly a dozen branches and other libraries at this point, many virtually (including Jamaica Plain, East Boston, South End, Fields Corner, Uphams Corner, West Roxbury, North End, and the Cambridge Public Library), we’ve also done several fun trivia nights themed around our urban atlases.

Check out our first trivia night and play along:

Education

During the pandemic we’ve expanded the online resources available for teachers and students on our website. Our K-12 teach-it-yourself page is particularly useful for teachers or homeschoolers. It’s got links to our Bending Lines educational activities, fully scripted versions of our most popular lessons, more traditional lesson plans, and map sets.

Here’s a spreadsheet of all our K-12 educational offerings for your use! Let us know if there’s anything you’d like to teach that we don’t have a resource for:

We’ve also been able to host university students from all around the United States on topics ranging from critical cartography to urban studies and Boston history. While zooming in on maps through a Zoom screen isn’t quite as awe-inspiring as seeing centuries-old documents in person, we’ve been really enjoying the opportunity to reach institutions that might not be able to fly across the country just for an in-person field trip.

Newly digitized collections

We’ve continued to digitize material in spite of the pandemic! One of the collections we’re most proud of digitizing recently is the maps of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the predecessor to today’s Boston Planning and Development Agency which undertook many of the city’s most famous urban development projects of the 20th century. These maps are great resources for what was proposed over the years, some of which was realized and some only exists now in the form of old plans!

As always, please head to our research page to satisfy your map curiosities! We can help you find a map to answer a research question, tell you about the history of your house or neighborhood, and explore with you as you use data to make your own geospatial projects! Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned researcher, we’re here for you. Drop us a line!