A map is a visual representation of a place on a flat surface. Maps
can help us understand our community's location in space and time. In
addition to teaching geographic understanding, maps can: illustrate change
over time, personalize history by giving evidence of familiar landmarks
in the setting of the past, and by demonstrating the attitudes of people
and their beliefs about the area they live in, as well as the political
policies of past eras. Exploring and creating maps can hone students' abilities
to analyze, think and learn.
Teaching Tools for Local History
** MAPS **
Maps have traditionally
been limited to paper media, which could be difficult to obtain for local
areas. Digital solutions provide a range of new choices for searching,
manipulating, viewing and analyzing maps, although paper maps can still
be used very effectively in the classroom when available.
General Teaching Tips: In general,
try to select maps which are not too complicated, or ‘noisy’ for students
to comfortably explore. Experiment with map websites and CD-ROMs before
students use them to be sure you are familiar with navigating, zooming
in and out, saving and printing maps. Some map sites require special browser
plugins, for instance the "MrSid" plugin for Library of Congress maps,
to make best use of their maps.
Most maps have a title,
which often includes information about the time period that the map illustrates.
Maps have orientation, which includes compass direction
and geographic relationships within an established area. Maps have a source,
or author, which often gives insight about its intended purpose and reason
for creation. Maps may have a legend explaining the symbols
used and a scale showing how distance is represented.
Many maps use grids to show lines of latitude and longitude.
(Adapted from: Library of Congress "Zoom Into Maps")
Types of Maps: (Adapted From
National Geographic Xpeditions):
- Political maps represent the political
units of the world, showing names of localities and boundary lines.
- Physical maps use shaded or painted
relief to illustrate a region's major landforms, including mountain
ranges, deserts, glaciers, rivers, valleys, etc.
- Topographic maps are general reference
maps showing coastlines, cities, and rivers that use contour lines to
show elevation differences. Such maps are helpful to hikers because
they can show elevation changes along a trail.
- Atlas maps can show anything about
anywhere. An atlas can contain collections of political, physical, satellite,
and thematic maps. Countries, states, towns have produced atlases that
describe all aspects of that locality.
- Historical maps can be maps created
in the past, reproductions of past maps, or modern-day creations illustrating
past events or places.
- What is the title/subject of this map?
- Who was the cartographer (creator)? What
do you know about this cartographer/creator?
- When was it prepared? If no date is listed,
what clues are there that could help date the map?
- Where was this map originally produced
and where is the map now found? (owner, repository)
- What was the purpose of the map and its
- What tools were used to prepare it and
what is its appearance? (Black and white, hand drawn with pen etc, or
printed in colors, etc., type of paper or print?)
- Describe what you find on this map: specific
information and symbols.
Critical Thinking Questions
- How can you tell if this map is accurate?
What sources would you use to verify it?
- What do you think was the intent of the
map creator and why it was written? What is stressed and what is omitted?
Do you think any bias was shown in its creation?
- What additional information is needed
to help you understand the map information more fully?
- What questions would you like to address
to the creator of this map?
- What would you like to learn more about
to better understand the context of this map and how would you get this
- Compare maps of town in past and present.
Draw a map illustrating the town in the future. Use a Venn Diagram to
explore similarities and differences between the three illustrations.
What things remained the same? What things changed? What things do people
have control over (e.g., transportation, housing style), and what things
cannot be easily changed, barring unforeseen technological breakthroughs
(e.g., climate, soil, natural resources)? How realistic do you think
your future map is?
About Maps" - graphic organizer for analysis and note taking.
Analysis Worksheet" US National Archives
and Records Administration
- Outline map of Massachusetts
- Outline map of Massachusetts with some
cities and towns.
Resources and Websites
Into Maps: Hometown, USA: Local Geography" Library of Congress Teaching
Feature. See also
LOC Map Collections, which includes many local maps of Massachusetts
towns and cities.
over Time" Wonderful overlay maps comparing past, present and future
of localities over time. Creator Bill Warner seeks to develop online
overlay maps for many towns in Massachusetts.
Topographical and aerial photograph maps of the United States provided
by the US Geological Survey., searchable by town.
- searchable topographical maps and nautical charts. Fewer aerial photos
available than at TerraServer, but the topo maps are clearer.
Model Lesson Plans
Changing Town" Students explore the reasons why cities change over
time and investigate how their own town has changed over time.
Some Massachusetts Maps for the
Classroom (Powerpoint File with outline, topographical and political
maps of Massachusetts.)
Commercial Sources for Reproductions of
Historic Local Maps
Maps: Town maps are available for specific counties
Maps: CD-ROM disc reproductions of circa 1860 maps of Massachusetts
Maps: More maps of Massachusetts
County Atlas: CD Collection of Massachusetts
1870 - 1876