|C2. Massachusetts Studies
Teaching Tools for Local History
** MAPS **
Introduction: 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.
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
General Teaching Tips:
In general, try to select maps which are not too complicated, or
“noisy” for students to comfortably explore.
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
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 intended
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?