Mapping the Past

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.

Guiding Questions

No guiding questions

Learning Objectives

To examine historical maps as cultural artifacts that reflect the views of particular times and places

To trace the evolving world view from medieval times through the Renaissance as recorded in maps of those eras

To investigate how cultural assumptions influenced the process of mapping the American West

To discover what present-day maps can tell us about our world view and cultural aspirations