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HISTORY 221: History and Genealogy in the US (Spring 2021) : Maps

About Maps

Maps tell stories about space, place, and time using vivid imagery in a relatively small space. Just like textual materials, they are created with a viewpoint and purpose - maps are not neutral. Using close reading, you can "peel back" the layers on a map and use it to gain insight and make historical arguments.

This page will introduce you to several kinds of maps that may be useful in your research and suggest where you can find them.

What kind of map do you need?

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of maps that can be used to tell very different stories. One of the first things you need to ask when using maps in your research is: What kind of map will best convey or support my argument?

What is your research question?

Be clear in you research question before beginning to look for map evidence. What are you trying to discover about the environmental history of your topic?

What time periods are pertinent for your question?

To gain perspective, it is useful to find maps created at several points during the time period you are studying.

What systems are involved in your question?

Some examples are:

Building layout/urban form
Transportation
Land forms/topography
Race
Economy
Water

Where are these systems operating?

Now consider your list of important systems. How big are they? How far do they reach? At what scale are they?

Street
Town or City
Landscape
Watershed
Nation