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Tip of the Week: 40 maps that explain just about everything

It’s actually 149 maps. But I figured that was just a bit of overkill in the title. To be completely transparent, it’s really five different articles about five different topics that all focus on very cool and interesting maps to tell a story.

So you can pick and choose.

Middle school US history teacher? There’s a little bit of the Civil War in there. High school world history? Yup. We’ve got some WWI and WWII. Ancient? Rome and Middle East, covered.

But . . . I can hear a few of you now.

Glenn. I know you love a good map. But what can I, a classroom teacher, do with that many maps? How can these be incorporated into my instruction? And somehow make it about historical thinking?

Well . . . first of all, we’ve already decided that 149 is a big number so don’t use all of the maps. Pick and choose the ones that best fit your specific end in mind and content. And second, remember that one of the best ways to engage the brain and to hook students on content is to create an intriguing problem. Look for a map or two or three that creates a sense of “academic discomfort” – something that doesn’t seem to make sense. Or maybe combine a few maps together to create a narrative that can lead kids in a certain direction.

We’ve used Google aerial photos to hook world history kids before. We can use a similar strategy with middle school US.

So how about this?

Share two maps with your kids. Be sure to block out the titles.

slave growth no title

Secession vote by county no title

Start with a basic question:

How are these two maps related? What can they tell us?

(An adaption of this would be to use the Question Formulation Technique to train students to develop their own line of thinking. QFT is a great way to support discipline specific inquiry skills. Instead of giving kids the problem before hand, use QFT to push them in the right direction while encouraging independent thinking.)

Force kids to support their answers. After a few (or more than a few) minutes, allow them to do whatever research they want online or using print resources. Lead small and whole group discussions. Let them argue. Encourage divergent possibilities. Definitely don’t tell them the answer. Let the problem percolate for a day.


I tell you at the bottom of the post but you can find the answer by browsing through the incredibly entertaining and time sucking articles created by Vox. Vox is a very fun site with very interesting and useful stuff. Over the last year, they’ve published a variety of articles that highlight 40ish different maps on different historical topics.

I’ve posted five of those articles below:

40 Maps That Explain the Roman Empire
Two thousand years ago, on August 19, 14 AD, Caesar Augustus died. He was Rome’s first emperor, having won a civil war more than 40 years earlier that transformed the dysfunctional Roman Republic into an empire. Under Augustus and his successors, the empire experienced 200 years of relative peace and prosperity. Here are 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire — its rise and fall, its culture and economy, and how it laid the foundations of the modern world.

40 Maps That Explain the Middle East
Maps can be a powerful tool for understanding the world, particularly the Middle East, a place in many ways shaped by changing political borders and demographics. Here are 40 maps crucial for understanding the Middle East — its history, its present, and some of the most important stories in the region today.

37 Maps That Explain the American Civil War
April 1865 was a momentous month in American history. On April 9, the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union forces of Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. Then on April 14 — 150 years ago — the victorious President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Civil War is often called the Second American Revolution. It ended the scourge of slavery while boosting the relative economic power of the North over the South. Here are 37 maps that explain the origins of the war, why the North won, and how the war transformed the United States of America

40 Maps That Explain World War One
Just over hundred years ago, on August 4, 1914, German troops began pouring over the border into Belgium, starting the first major battle of World War I. The Great War killed 10 million people, redrew the map of Europe, and marked the rise of the United States as a global power. Here are 40 maps that explain the conflict — why it started, how the Allies won, and why the world has never been the same.

42 Maps That Explain World War Two
World War II was a great tragedy, claiming 60 million lives and throwing millions more into turmoil. Yet the war also spurred rapid technological development, hastened the end of colonialism, and laid the foundation for institutions like the United Nations and the European Union. Here are 42 maps that explain the conflict — how it started, why the Allies won, and how it has shaped the modern world.

Want the full meal deal? Vox has dozens of these articles. Head here to get the full list. Pack a lunch cause you’re going to be there a while. Seriously. Take some snacks. A bottle of water. Something.

The answer to the question?

The first map documents the growth of slavery between 1790 and 1860. The second highlights the votes on secession by county. The connection? Lower numbers of enslaved persons in an area usually meant a lower number of votes for secession. The western part of Virginia obviously ended up not seceding at all. This can lead to all sorts of discussion – including the idea that not everyone in the South wanted the war, not everyone in the North wanted to end slavery, that economics impacts politics, that the major cause of the war was slavery not states rights, that  . . . well, you get the idea.

Have fun!

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