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History Nerd Fest 2013 – Maps that startle


I love maps.

Especially fun and cool maps. So any session that is titled “Maps That Startle. Perplex, and Engage” has got my name written all over it.

We’re learning about a site called Patchwork Nation. It is legen . . .  wait for it . . . dary. Legendary. How have I not heard of this place before?

Patchwork Nation basically says that generalizations such as red vs. blue, South vs. North, blue collar vs. white collar is too simplistic. These stereotypes are inadequate and misleading.

Patchwork Nation is a demographic / geographic breakdown of the nation into 12 different kinds of communities. Using counties as building blocks, they have identified different kinds of places – everything from rural agricultural areas to the wealthy suburban places, which they use to examine how various kinds of communities experience culture, the economy and politics.

Patchwork Nation makes open data easy.  It delivers national data with local context while remaining visually intuitive for the reader.  The interactive map helps break down national data to analyze how it impacts communities.  We put data in the hands of the user, allowing him or her to compare different data sets and explore national data county-by-county.

Using the data gives you the chance to develop some very interesting questions:

  • Why is there more red in the South?
  • How has voting patterns changed over the last 40 years?
  • How has poverty levels changed in the last decade? Why has that happened? Has it happened more in certain places of the country? Why?
  • Is there a connection between where casinos are located and where Walmarts are located?
  • Is there a connection between levels of higher education and where Walmarts are located?
  • How is voter participation connected with levels of education?

Even better questions might be:

  • Show students the map with all 12 communities highlighted. (or just one or two highlighted.) Don’t give them the key. Ask them why certain counties show up and others don’t.
  • As they figure this out, ask them to question the data the map uses to label a county. Is that data the “correct” data? What other data should we be looking out?
  • Have students select one specific county. Ask them to highlight problems or issues that county is facing. Ask students to develop possible solutions to those problems.

You could go on and on. And since we’re at the NCSS conference, yes . . . this sort of activity is aligned to the Common Core and the NCSS standards.

There is also a Patchwork Nation app for you mobile users.

We then looked at variety of different types of other maps and data that can be found online.


Why does this map look the way it does.

40 Maps That Help You make Sense of the World

Social Explorer

CIA Database / KML Factbook

World Mapper

Historical Census Browser

If It Were My Home

I love maps!


C4 Framework alignment? This is all about the Collect element in the beginning, gathering data and organizing it. But as kids begin to use this data, they will be moving into Collaborate and Create.

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