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

Classroom Activities

Grades 9-12

At the high school level, some more concrete historical discussion can be generated by asking students to address certain elements of the map, such as Dejima or Suwa Shrine. A simple classroom exercise may begin with a brief description (but not a historical contextualization) of Dejima followed by a class-wide brainstorm about why the Japanese might want to isolate foreigners in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a similar fashion, Suwa Shrine might be brought up and students could be asked to discuss the role of religion in the context of international relations across time. Either of these activities might also tie into more comprehensive research or writing assignments, as information about Dejima and/or the Japanese attitude towards Christianity in the early modern period is readily available, both online and in print.

A more cartographically-minded activity mirrors one suggested for grades 4-8, though with a richer chance for constructive discussion, as students are bound to be more aware of their surroundings and, thus, produce more compelling maps. This activity begins with the instructor handing out blank outlines of the country or state the class is located in and telling the students to fill the outline in with as much information as they see fit. Suggestions of possible inclusions (such as downtown areas, beaches, shopping centers, major highways, lakes, etc.) may be given, though this may influence what the students decide to depict. Once students are done making their maps, collect them and redistribute them randomly to the class, asking the students to notice differences between what they created and what their peer created. Ask students why they felt certain elements were more important to include and why they thought this was the case. This can dovetail with a discussion of cartographic motive and silences in maps, all the while fostering a sense of critical thinking about the subjectivity of an apparently objective medium. The Nagasaki map (or others maps and atlases) can then be brought up, informing further discussion about what each cartographer might have hoped to convey in each.