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Nagasaki Harbor, 1741: Navigating the Many Dimensions of a Map

Classroom Activities

Grades 4-8

Unlabeled path from [Manuscript map of Nagasaki, its harbor and surrounding region]. ca. 1741-65.

Unlabeled path from [Manuscript map of Nagasaki, its harbor and surrounding region]. ca. 1741-65.

As students master the basics of geography and begin learning more intermediate historical or cartographic concepts, an emphasis on decoding information given can jumpstart a student’s critical eye towards these sorts of matters. Bringing up the Nagasaki map (along with a brief background) and asking students to speculate about the meaning of different lines and colors aloud allows the group them to distinguish between assumption and fact and also provides plenty of opportunity for the insertion of doubt and skepticism as a central part of writing and reading in history and other social sciences. Encourage students to brainstorm different things each color field and red line might represent, all while pressing them to imagine the sort of person that might use this map.

For an activity that directly complements this site’s discussion of silence in maps, hand out a page with the outline of the state or country you are in. Ask the students to spend a brief amount of time labeling what they know from memory without putting their name on the page. You may suggest certain elements (downtown areas, towns, parks, lakes, rivers, beaches, etc.), but not doing so may create a more fruitful dialogue as the activity progresses. Once time has run out, collect the hand-drawn maps and redistribute them, asking the students to look over the map they just received. Asking the students to differentiate between information they thought worthwhile to put on the map and the information a classmate put on the map could easily lead into a discussion of the many different purposes of maps. Different maps in atlases or online could show students the many different reasons cartographers have for creating maps. Additionally, you might ask the students to evaluate what they (or their classmate) left off the map and why they think that was the case. This second conversation contrasts somewhat with the first, and this can help students make the realization that maps are normally very deliberate works, full of the creator’s purposeful (and sometimes incidental) motives and reflective of their resources.