I have written before about the importance of using visual resources in teaching. Maps are an excellent example of this sort of teaching tool. And there are plenty of online historic maps available to use in the classroom.
One website that I find very useful in my teaching is the Virtual Jamestown collection of maps. To see what they have available click here.
Old maps can be used in subtle ways to teach students about the relationship between natives and whites in the first contact period and the motivations of early white settlers and their governments. Maps don’t show a physical reality but instead give an impression of what their creators hoped would be.
Early European maps of North America, such as John Smith’s map of Virginia of 1608 tells a complex story about his reliance on native knowledge and the vulnerability felt by the English in the New World. But it also shows England’s nascent imperialism by making grand claims about the possession of the region.
Asking students to assess visual sources such as maps can open up the key themes in American history, such as colonialism and white-native relations, to broader discussion and can also appeal to some students who are aliendated by textual sources. Why not give maps a go next time you’re not sure how to teach your topic?