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

Classroom Activities

Grades K-3

Giving students alternatives to merely looking at maps of their home state or home country may help cement the concepts your teaching is aiming to introduce. Though the Nagasaki map doesn’t have a legend or an obvious compass rose, this gives younger students the perfect opportunity to try and make one for themselves. There are plenty of recognizable (and some occasionally challenging) shapes and symbols throughout the map; assigning your students the task of making up the meaning for the symbols and formatting the legend will encourage them to contextualize and synthesize the presence of consistent visual clues and challenge them to organize the information they are inferring in an easy-to-read way.

For the younger students, there are many instances on the map where apparently bizarre things are occurring. For example, in the peripheral islands on the map, there are singular structures (houses or temples) resting on hills. Assigning students the task of making up a story regarding why someone would want to live alone on a hill isolated on an island is a creative alternative to other writing or storytelling exercises. To stoke the flames further, you might include more colorful elements of Japan’s historical iconography of the time; this map, for instance, was produced within the time that samurai served as royal officers. For another interesting story prompt, a Dutch ship is seen floating towards Nagasaki harbor on a curved wind in a corner of the map.