Atlas of Historic NM Maps
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Lesson Plans
UNM Press
NM Centennial

An Atlas of Historic New Mexico Maps, 15501941

Unit One: Looking at Maps


In completing this lesson, students will:

* Navigate a historic map, using the basic tools of Google maps

* Compare historic and modern maps of their own town.

* Analyze the basic components of a map, and what kind of information can be learned from looking at one.

* Create simple maps using primary or secondary sources.




compass rose




relief map

political map

topographic map

satellite map

contour map

resource map


Activity I: Looking at Historic Maps

Before the lesson:

The teacher should be familiar with the functionality of the Google maps at the Atlas of Historic New Mexico maps. Read the Note To Teachers on the Lesson Plans page. It might be helpful to print out the Help section, in order to teach students to navigate the interface. If the classroom only has a computer and a projector or whiteboard, then the teacher can create an account, log in, and save the first view of the 1925 map, in order to skip the first steps.

Introduce the idea of historic maps. Maps are an interesting way to convey a lot of information. Explain the historic context of this map:

- NM & AZ are new states

- New Mexicans were making an effort to seem "American"

- the federal & state governments had embarked on highway construction, but most "highways" were simply dirt roads

- people were buying the first mass-produced automobiles

- Antiquities Act allowed the creation of Chaco & Gila Cliff Dwellings & Carlsbad Caverns

Navigate to the website (link below)

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the 1925 Rand McNally map.

If the classroom has multiple computers, let students spend a few minutes familiarizing themselves with the map interface, or use the Help section to walk your students through using basic Google map controls (pan, zoom in/out, pan to an area, pan quickly, reset).

Have them try the following:

zoom in to see place names

click and drag on the map

use pan quickly box, then collapse/uncollapse

click on an icon to open the info window

turn all icons off in the Google map legend

Have the students fill out the Map Analysis Worksheet (link below)

Find your community.

When students (or the teacher) have navigated to show your community, zoom in all the way. Without moving the map, switch to today view, by clicking on the button in the upper right hand corner.

Without moving the map, click the today button, and uncheck roads.

The three maps show the three views of the same area. The teacher should make a chart with three columns, one for each map. Have the students identify features each map shows (for example: hotels, highways, topography, satellite imagery, national parks/monuments, tourist attractions, native land, military reservations). Mark items that are different now than in the past. Using a different style or color, mark items on your list for the historic map that are currently inaccurate (hotels, roads).

Draw a line underneath the items you have listed, and have the students suggest ways that each map might be used. Are the groups the same? Different?

Rand McNally Auto Trails Map Arizona & New Mexico : 1925

Map Analysis Worksheet

Activity II: Who made this map and why?

The following materials may be useful to teachers seeking advice on using maps. The website, History Matters- Making Sense of Evidence (link below) contains materials on working with maps as historical evidence. Relevant sections include Where Do I Begin?, Who Made This Map and Why?, and How is the Data Organized?

Explain the following (from the above website):

Using an analogy from writing, to fully understand historical prose, you need to know about the author: his/her background, motivations, and when and where the author wrote. This information is essential in order to place the writing within a proper historical context. Similarly one needs to place maps in their proper spatial and chronological contexts to fully appreciate their meaning. This information can shed more light on a map's historical context. All these elements may not be present on every map but knowing information about several of them will make it much easier to fit the map into geographical and historical niches.

Author/Publisher -- Knowing who created the map may offer hints as to the map's bias or biases. Does this person or organization have a vested interest in how the map is perceived by the map reader? For example, maps created by western promoters, were aimed at attracting prospective settlers. Often they were purely propaganda.

Place of Publication -- In what country or city was the map published? What language(s) does the map employ? This could provide insights into potential nationalistic biases.

Date -- When the map was constructed helps to place the map in its chronological context. Does the map reflect true facts?

Audience -- Who was the intended audience? What message did the mapmaker want to send? Why was the map produced?

Source of Data -- If the map uses secondary data sources, such as census material, knowing the source of the data will help in assessing the appropriateness of the data and thereby the map.

Origin -- Was the map drawn? printed in limited numbers? mass-produced? This is often related to the date the map was initially created.

Context -- How does the map fit with earlier and later maps? How does the map reflect new discoveries?

Just as historians cannot record every minute detail of an event, cartographers cannot show all aspects of a place. In the case of maps, more details about the world are omitted as the map's scale becomes smaller. This process, called map simplification, is part of a larger process of cartographic generalization. During the simplification process the cartographer has to reduce details. For example, the Mississippi River is a meandering stream. To fit the Mississippi on a map in a textbook only a few of the biggest changes in direction can be shown. In the simplification process most of the meanders are omitted and the result is an image of a relatively straight stream, while in reality the Mississippi is a highly convoluted watercourse. When cartographers opt to emphasize a single theme such as population density by census tract or cotton production by county, they omit all other information about the places. What is emphasized and what is omitted is another dimension of the simplification process. In this process a map can be manipulated to create a false impression. Mapmakers can show only the information they want to convey and omit the things they want to obscure. This is a very powerful tool in hands of an unscrupulous or novice mapmaker. When examining a map, always ask: "What is not shown?"

To represent elements of the physical and cultural landscape on a map, they must be reduced in complexity and then fitted into a scheme so that their meaning can be understood by a map reader. Cities are shown as dots of differing sizes, blue lines represent streams, and regions are defined by colored polygons. This cartographic shorthand involves a third part of generalization, that of symbolization. Well-made maps have a legend or key that explains the meaning of each type of symbol used on a map. Without this information, a map is difficult to interpret. Differences in symbols' shapes, sizes, hues, orientations, gray tone values, and textures are properties that are used to denote spatial and quantitative variation on a map. As with projections, the use of inappropriate symbols can convey erroneous information, and, as with projections, symbols can be manipulated to create false impressions.

When looking at a map, we can ask: what kind of information are you getting? How recent is the information? Who made it? What stake did they have in presenting one kind of picture or another? Is the information useful? would it have been useful for the people who were there? As a class, discuss: Why are maps made? Who makes them and for whom?

History Matters

Activity III: Making Maps

Have each student make a map of someplace they know very well, such a map of a room in their house, the route to school, their block, etc. This can be done in class (from memory), but would be ideal for a home assignment, where students can take time to measure (by pacing out, with a pedometer, or with a measuring tape) the area being mapped. Maps should include a legend, a scale, and a compass rose.

When the students have completed the map, put them in pairs. Hand out graph paper. Students take turns describing their map in such a way that the other student can accurately draw the map. Have students compare the maps and list the differences.

As a class, discuss: what is the difference between a map made by someone who was there and a map made based on a description? What effect do different measuring systems have on the accuracy of a map? Scale? What features are important for maps?


Did the student:

Successfully use the basic tools of Google maps to Navigate a historic map?

Accurately compare historic and modern maps?

Identify the basic components of a map?

Contribute to a list of information that can be learned from looking at one?

Create a simple map from observation or memory?

Create a simple map from a description?

Contribute to the discussion and demonstrate understanding of the subject?


Key Ideas and Details:


Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.


Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Craft and Structure:


Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.


Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.


Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.


Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.


Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

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