Mystery of globe in Whipple Museum solved

Amy Hawkins – News Reporter 11 January 2013

The mystery of a Spanish globe housed in Cambridge’s Whipple museum finally seems to have been solved. The purpose and provenance of the artefact, which looks from the outside like any humble globe, was unknown until itsparked the curiosity of Cambridge’s Seb Falk, from the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science.

Falk believes that the globe may have been used for teaching, as the planetarium is the perfect size to fit a child’s hand and one of the planets has the Spanish word for alone, “solo”, written on it in a childish script – possibly a misspelling of the word “sol” for sun, showing us how the mistakes and injuries of an object can tell us even more than if it had been in perfect condition. After the civil unrest and lack of economic growth of the nineteenth century, Spain’s education system was moving towards a more interactive style of teaching, for which this globe would have been perfect.

Falk suspects that the reason that there are not more examples of its kind is the cost of the manufacture. Talking to Cambridge News, Falk said: “Making a globe like this would have been technically difficult…the construction of the globe from brass, wood and pasteboard, the inside of the sphere… designed expressly for the object and printed using the latest chromolithographic technology”. This makes the globe a surprising find in a country with no tradition of globe making.

The globe can be dated by the animal and plants depicted, as well as the border shown between Norway and Sweden, whose union was dissolved in 1905. The encyclopaedic entries also use Spanish accents which became obsolete early in the twentieth century, suggesting that the globe was made in around 1907. However all the text is in Spanish, and the prime meridian is shown to run through Madrid, indicating a Spanish provenance and perhaps the inchoate origins of a Spanish tradition that never flourished.

Amy Hawkins – News Reporter