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Historical Comprehension: Using Historical Maps

Historical maps are valuable sources that allow users to relate historical information to geographic information. For example, maps showing census data can make changes in the population more visible than a table presenting the same data.

Statistical Atlas of the United States Based on the Results of the Eleventh Census

Statistical Atlas of the United States Based on the Results of the Eleventh Census Plate 11. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1898. Lithograph. Geography and Map Division. (5-18)

The Special Presentation, The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship features a map showing the distribution of the African American population in 1890. Study the map closely. Then find comparable maps showing the African American population in 1870 and 1880.

  • How is the map showing the 1870 census data different from the other two maps? Why do you think the map shows only part of the nation?
  • Study the patterns of population distribution shown in the three maps. What similarities do you see? What accounts for this persistent pattern?
  • What changes do you see in the distribution of the African American population from 1870 to 1880? From 1880 to 1890? What might account for those changes?
  • What advantages do these historical maps offer in studying changes in population distribution among African Americans in the Reconstruction period? What information would be valuable in helping you interpret the maps?