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Literature, geography, and epic road trips

We’re putting the finishing touches on this year’s Kansas state social studies conference. Titled A Capitol Idea: Integrating History and ELA, the conference will focus on ways to support both social studies and language arts folks. We know that this sort of integration is critical to developing the skills our kids need to be successful.

(So . . . shameless propaganda. If you’re anywhere near the Kansas capitol building on November 2, you need to plan on being part of the conversation. And by near, I’m talking five or six hour driving distance. Seriously. It’s gonna be awesome.)

But our planning and discussion about combining literacy skills and historical thinking jogged my memory. I knew Pocketed an article about a month or so ago that highlighted American road trips using some sort of map. A quick search of my Pocket later and yup, there it was.

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

According to author Richard Kreitner,

The . . . map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.

Most interestingly of all, for me at least, you can ruminate about what those differences say about American travel, American writing, American history.

We’ve chatted before about Google LitTrips before – the idea of creating Google Earth Tours based on historical fiction, novels and nonfiction. Jerome Burg created the idea several years ago and it’s been growing ever since:

This site is an experiment in teaching great literature in a very different way. Using Google Earth, students discover where in the world the greatest road trip stories of all time took place . . .

Kreitner’s map is similar.road trip map 2

You get a very cool overview, in a geographic sense, of where a book goes. Combine the geographic jaunt with the literary journey and you’ve got a perfect recipe for high levels of learning. And, yes, Common Core literacy standards are getting checked off left and right.

The map lets you isolate individual books. But I like Kreitner’s comment about having kids compare and contrast different perspectives of the same place. Perhaps use this map to jumpstart the creation of other products by your students. The Google Tour Builder and Google’s new My Maps are both perfect for this.

You might look at using Hstry to create interactive timelines. Maybe MapStory. Or StoryMaps. Yes. They are two different tools.

But the idea of all of these things is that kids start to connect place with content. Physical with metaphysical. And that they begin see how place and geography impact everything we do, say, write, think.

The ReadWriteThink and EDSITEment folks both do a great job of creating and sharing ways to integrate geography and ELA. Be sure to head over there once you’ve poked around Kreitner’s maps.

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