Cartography as Critical Thinking

I love maps… always have.  Since I was in school, I would collect the National Geographic maps and hang them in my room.  I memorized most country locations and really fell in love with how much there is to learn and explore through these maps.  By the time I got to junior high, I had been drawing maps by hand for nearly every project I did.  I originally traced, but ended up drawing them with some success.  I never got a job for Rand-McNally, but I thought I did pretty good for an untrained south-suburban kid!

One thing lead to another recently and had a class discussion about maps.  they really provide a good deal of critical thinking.  Aside from analyzing and committing to memory the physical shape of a country/state through drawing it, identifying important features requires a good deal of knowledge.  What cities are important?  What states or territories are relevant?  Are any bodies of water (natural and man-made)  or geographic features relevant to a given time period?  These may be simple, but they related to the principles of Geographic Literacy we spoke about earlier in the year.

For this map, a few weeks ago before break, I had laid out the following guidelines.

  1. Draw a map of America around the year 1815 (the time period we studied before break).
  2. Include any states, territories.  If it’s not America, it’s NOT on the map (goodbye, Nevada!)
  3. Include 10 important cities.
  4. Draw any important geographic features.
  5. Include a Compass.
  6. Use color, be creative.

We also explored what more you can do with maps, from creative illustrations, symbolism and imagery, to interesting perspectives.  Have fun, and be simple – all you need is your textbook, some colored pencils and a sheet of paper.  This is a small activity, not a major project… enjoy it!


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