A detail of the so-called "Christopher Columbus" map.
Credit: Courtesy of Xpeditions at the National Geographic Society.
This lesson provides students with experience in working with historical maps as cultural artifacts that reflect the views of particular times and places. Students begin by examining European world maps from three eras -- the Middle Ages, the Age of Discovery, and the period of New World exploration -- in order to discover how people of those times understood their world and interacted with it. Then students look at maps that record the early exploration of the American West, noting how mapmakers kept alive hopes of finding a Northwest Passage and how this hope is reflected in what Lewis and Clark marked as significant on the map produced by their expedition. Finally, students collect present-day maps, using library and/or Internet resources, to investigate the range of perspectives we adopt toward our world and how our maps reflect our own cultural concerns and aspirations.
Begin by providing each student with a copy of the Map Analysis Worksheet available through EDSITEment at the Digital Classroom website of the National Archives and Records Administration. At the website's homepage, click "Document Analysis Worksheets" in the blue sidebar and click Map. Discuss with students how they can use the worksheet to discover various kinds of information in an historical map, including facts about the map itself (date, creator, purpose, etc.) and facts about the past. Explain that in this lesson students will use the worksheet to examine a variety of historical maps, first comparing European world maps from different eras, then tracing the process of mapping the American West. (Note: Point out to students that some questions on the "Map Analysis Worksheet" (e.g., 6D and 6E) may not be relevant to this lesson.)
Divide the class into small study groups and have each group use the "Map Analysis Worksheet" to prepare a class report on the significance of one of the following historical maps available through EDSITEment:
Have each group display and report on its map, summarizing the findings recorded on their "Map Analysis Worksheets." As students present their reports, call attention to the following points:
Next, have students examine a series of maps recording European exploration of the American West, which show how cultural assumptions sometimes guided the mapmaker's attempt to "fill in the blanks." For this part of the lesson, have each study group use the "Map Analysis Worksheet" to draw information from all three maps:
Have each study group share its observations on each map and on the relationships between them in an informal report, then discuss as a class the sequence traced by these maps, exploring the points below:
Conclude this lesson by having students individually collect different kinds of present-day maps of the world and/or the United States -- road maps, vacation maps, political maps, satellite-image maps, computer-generated maps, ecological maps, etc. Let the class choose several examples from this collection for study using the "Map Analysis Worksheet" to find out what our maps might reveal about our world view and our assumptions about our relationship to our world.
Historical maps can open an exciting chapter in the history of technology and science. For background on the scientific mapmaking skills used by Lewis and Clark, visit Exploring the West from Monticello on EDSITEment, and click Observations of Latitude and Longitude at All Remarkable Points on the website's homepage. For information on Galileo's efforts to improve navigation, visit The Galileo Project, click "Observing Terrace" on the website's homepage, and select Longitude at Sea.
2 class periods