100-year-old globe from Spain may have been an early example of interactive education
Friday 28 December 2012
A century-old globe filled with encyclopaedic illustrations and a working model of the Solar System may have been an early example of interactive education, experts believe.
The colourful 10-inch wide object, housed at Cambridge University's Whipple Museum, has been shrouded in mystery until now.
When, where and why it was made remained an unsolved puzzle.
Now a new investigation points to the globe being made in Spain in the first decade of the 20th century as an educational tool for children.
On its surface the globe has a conventional map of the world, showing the continents and oceans.
Inside there are exquisite hand-painted illustrations and texts depicting the history of life on Earth.
The globe also contains a mini-planetarium that re-enacts the revolution of the planets around the Sun at the turn of a cog.
Cambridge University science historian Seb Falk, who led research into the globe's providence, said: "Making a globe like this would have been technically difficult: apart from the construction of the globe from brass, wood and pasteboard, the inside of the sphere is hand-covered with encyclopaedic information designed expressly for the object and printed using the latest chromolithographic technology.
"All in all, it's rather surprising that such an object was made in Spain, a country where there was no previous tradition of globe making."
His detective work included examining national borders depicted on the globe, as well as the information illustrated within it such as names of animals and numbers of planetary moons.
One clue was the use of Spanish word accents that were lost in the first decade of the 20th century.
The evidence pointed towards the globe having been manufactured in Spain around 1907 - an important time in the country's history.
"The 19th century had seen civil wars and coups with numerous failed attempts at economic reform and industrialisation," Mr Falk explained.
"A vociferous press argued that Spain's problems resulted from inadequacies in the education system."
As a result, educational practices in Spain began moving away from passive learning towards flexible, small-group education which incorporated tactile experiences and experimentation. The "encyglobedia" would have been ideal for this form of teaching.
"Although what one might ordinarily want to do with a globe - spin it - is almost impossible, it is clearly intended to be touched," said Mr Falk.
"The planetarium is sized to fit a child's hand, with instructions designed to be read aloud: 'if we place the little lunar globe in a straight line between the earth and the sun, the moon will block the Sun's light.. we thus have a solar eclipse'."
On one of the planets, a child appears to have written the word "solo", meaning alone or single.
International commerce expanded greatly in the late 19th century and there was a flourishing European trade in scientific instruments and educational products, said Mr Falk.
"Recent developments in printing technology were vital to the production of such a beautiful, brightly coloured toy," he added.
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