Friday, November 23, 2007

Mapping my way to fun on Black Friday

As usual, the majority of the U.S. fought their Turkey Day Tryptophan hangover today by heading to their local department store for some frenzied Black Friday fun. Actually, it seems like the fun is starting earlier every year and, as I drove home last night, I saw no less than six tents set up outside of the entrance to Best Buy. It was only 7:30 p.m. and it was only 29 degrees outside. I just hope there was a sale on sanity, because there were clearly some potential buyers.

In the interests of full disclosure, my brother and I did try the Black Friday thing last year. Staples was having a terrific sale on (nerd alert!) external hard drives and flash drives and the ad proved too tempting. An office store is one place that I legitimately enjoy shopping, even when they're not throwing discounts at me. Pens! Notebooks! Gadgets! So many office supplies I don't need, but still desire!

With visions of flash drives dancing in our heads, we woke up at some ungodly hour and arrived at the store in a daze around 5 a.m. A line stretching to the middle of the store had somehow already formed, and we discovered that there were actually only 12 discounted external hard drives and flash drives in the entire store. We were apparently in line to get a ticket that wouldn't even guarantee that the item would be ours. Quickly weighing the costs and benefits, we soon fled the store. I was asleep again by 7, but Black Friday had left a bitter taste in my mouth.

That's why today was different. Rebuking the rebates, I went to the Field Museum to see their newest exhibit--Maps: Finding Our Place in the World. You have to pay extra for this one, but it's definitely worth the price of admission. The exhibit traces the use of maps throughout history and displays more maps than you ever thought you would see in one place. I know this might sound like a recipe for a nap (especially if you eat leftovers before you go), but it's absolutely fascinating to see actual maps from the Holy Roman Empire, Leonardo da Vinci, Ptolemy, the Civil War and other countries/eras/events/people that you've previously only read about in History class.

Two cool highlights:
1. An electronic map that displays the history of the Civil War in four minutes. I had previously seen this at the Abe Lincoln museum in Springfield and it's an awesome way to present history. Major battles, a casualty count and the changing Union/Confederate borders are overlaid on a map of the U.S. You can see the Confederacy making a stand when their territory increased at some points during the war, while the casualty counter rises alarmingly.

2. A hand-drawn map of London during the late-19th century cholera outbreak. John Snow hypothesized that the outbreak was due to contaminated water and not airborne, as most people thought. To test this theory, he charted the geographic location of cholera-related deaths on a map of the city's water pump system. He pinpointed one pump that was particularly close to an area with many victims and conducted interviews that showed the victims received water from this pump. It wasn't until decades later that the medical community substantiated his theory with scientific research. Hooray for maps, Sherlock!

It's a sprawling exhibit and I was only there for a little more than an hour, but you can easily spend more time on it. The best part is that I feel like I actually learned something and had a good time doing it. I don't think the tent-dwelling Best Buy customers can say that, even if they did get a good deal on their Wii.

If you're not in Chicago, be sure to check out the exhibit's nifty Web site that I've linked to frequently above. It'll give you a taste of what I'm talking about.


Anna said...

I'll have to try and check out the exhibit when I'm in Chicago next month.

Katie Fee said...

Yay for new blog postings! That's it.