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USGS Historical Topo Maps

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For the last month or so, there has been a serious spring cleaning operation going on in my house. Serious. I’ve dug through boxes of stuff that I packed away almost 20 years ago and haven’t looked at since. Middle school lessons plans. Old laminated classroom posters. Folders of tests and handouts. Front pages from the Wichita newspaper documenting the first Gulf War.

And maps. Lots and lots of maps. Most of all the stuff I went through got recycled.  Some of the books and resources will be given away as door prizes during future trainings. The maps? Nope. Kept most of the those. Cause you can never have too many maps. There’s just something about a good paper map.

But I also understand the power of digital. As much as I enjoy spreading out a 1939 world atlas, the ability of an online or tech-based map to blend and display huge amounts of data can’t be beat. Google Maps. Google Earth. ERSI. Rumsey Georeferencer. StoryMaps.

And now you’ve got the United States Geological Survey folks with even more goodies. The USGS has always been great about creating and sharing educational resources. But now they’ve created a new handy tool for finding and using historical topographic maps. Called TopoView, the tool gives you and students the ability to look at geographic locations and how they’ve changed over time.

TopoView highlights one of the USGS’s most important and useful products, the topographic map. In 1879, the USGS began to map the Nation’s topography. This mapping was done at different levels of detail, in order to support various land use and other purposes. As the years passed, the USGS produced new map versions of each area. The most current maps are available from The National Map. TopoView shows the many and varied older maps of each area, and so is useful for historical purposes—for example, the names of some natural and cultural features have changed over time, and the ‘old’ names can be found on these historical topographic maps.

Need a quick overview?

The maps shown through topoView are from the USGS’s Historical Topographic Map Collection The goal of this scanning is to provide a digital repository of 1:250,000 scale and larger (more detailed) maps printed between 1884 and 2006. Currently, there are more than 178,000 maps. At present, these maps are offered as GeoPDFs, through The National Map and the USGS Store. However, additional formats are now being offered through topoView to include:

  • GeoTIFF – The GeoTIFF files are a compressed, 300 dpi TIFF image format, with embedded georeferencing information so that the map can be used directly in a Geographic Information System (GIS). The GeoTIFFs are generated at true scale, allowing users to plot the map at the intended map scale in cases where a hard copy is needed.
  • JPEG – The high-resolution JPEGs, or ‘Browse JPEG’ format are useful for getting a quick view of the map in order to find place names or simply explore the map area without the need for downloading a large file.
  • KMZ – The KMZ format is a compressed form of the KML format which is used for displaying the maps in Google Earth

So use TopoView to help kids understand continuity and change over time, urban vs rural, spatial patterns of cultural and environmental characteristics, analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places, relationships between people and place, the impact of population on place . . . you can focus on all sorts of ideas and concepts through the use of maps.

Take advantage of USGS lessons as well as National Geographic lessons for great starting points.

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