Connected Learning in Practice: the Sidney R. Knafel Map Collection

 In Connected Learning, Featured

Examples of the impact of Connected Learning at Andover stretch well beyond courses that specifically address the impact of new technologies. Consider the Sidney R. Knafel Map Collection. Consisting of approximately 150 maps given to the Academy by Trustee Emeritus Sidney Knafel ’48, the collection has already catalyzed a variety of exciting connected learning opportunities and approaches, with more to come.

After receiving the maps in late 2011, the Academy appointed Emma Frey, Instructor in History and Social Science, as the inaugural geographer-at-large, charged with integrating the Knafel collection into the school’s curriculum. Her approach exemplifies the ways in which the artifacts themselves can generate diverse modes, opportunities, and lenses for learning – across contexts, departments, and classrooms, and by engaging with different kinds of learners, faculty members, and ideas. In partnership with the Addison Gallery of American Art, a first step was cataloging, curating, and housing the unique collection of atlases, maps, and globes, which date from 1434 well into the 19th century.

The next phase focused on digitizing the maps in partnership with the Boston Public Library (BPL). Digitization enables teachers and students to work freely with the collection at the highest resolution so that the images can be examined closely. The partnership with the BPL and the Digital Public Library of America ensures that the maps are available and accessible to not only to Andover students, but to any curious person around the world. From cataloging and digitization, Ms. Frey turned to making reproductions of the maps available within the teaching spaces of the Academy. Beyond the students who may request to view the collection in the Addison or those who may seek them out online, these displays are intended to capture the imagination of those who walk by them every day in SamPhil. Their physical presence offers a new perspective and entry point for these learners, in addition to a convenient classroom tool.

Community engagement and continued outreach will be central to continued growth of the effort. The history curriculum is an obvious starting point, but other faculty members are also invited to think creatively about how the maps might fit into their courses. Last summer, History Instructor Dr. Nile Blunt used the maps in his summer course, Great Issues and Controversies of the Modern World. The participating students, who came to Andover from many different countries and states, had hands-on access to the collection. Maps selected for the course had a specific feature that students observed and drew upon: a geographic discovery, a piece of misinformation, a cartouche, an innovative projection, a cultural perspective, etc., and each student was responsible for visually reading and making the case for why “their” map might be deserving of special analysis. The experience was a powerful complement to their classroom instruction and generated a great deal of conversation and thoughtful enthusiasm.

With each term, a new facet, use, and user joins the conversation and gives additional depth and color to the richness and impact of the Sidney R. Knafel collection. Diverse disciplines also shed new light on the maps: members of both the English and Art departments are using them in their courses. The maps were the centerpiece of Elaine Crivelli’s Art 350 course, and used as an provocation to students:  What is a map? How can it be redefined, repurposed, or reimagined to visually document a plan, system, or idea? Final projects included an incredible array of student-created maps, which drew upon elements of the Knafel maps while also charting new uses and contemporary interpretations of “what a map can be.”

The math department recently joined the effort by hanging select maps in Morse Hall. Over time, each map will include an accompanying narrative that includes a description of the map and some sort of mathematical problem that seeks to draw connections between math, art, and history. Two of the featured maps are of Phillips Academy in the 1800’s. At its core, the Connected Learning approach is generative and forward-learning: the future undoubtedly holds new applications and creative opportunities for community members to access, read and study, learn deeply from, and reimagine the collection.

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  • Sara Wedeman

    This is an incredibly exciting undertaking. As a life-long member of that small but proud group – the map-obsessed – I hope to learn more and more as I peruse this wonderful project. If there is any way I can be of service, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I am an alum (class of ’74) and have done a lot of work on broadband mapping, as well as mapping trade routes through history. Congratulations and bon voyage!


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