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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Mapping The National Parks

[Detail] The Grand Canyon. Clarence E. Dutton, 1882.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Cartographers created the national park maps for a variety of purposes and goals. Some maps had one specific goal, while many had multiple intended functions. The cartographers' goals reflect what was going on in that period of American history. Therefore, in addition to information about the land it depicts, a map also provides information about the creator's goals and the historical background that informed the map's creation. Teachers may use this collection to help students to access this level of meaning in their analysis and interpretation of maps, which can also be applied to other historical artifacts, including literature.

Students can choose an era in American history and browse the collection by Geographic Location to find maps that existed at that time. They can use the questions below to determine the cartographers' goals and the events of that period:

  • Who made the map? Was this person a government employee? Hired by a private company? Self-employed? What assumptions can we make about the map from this knowledge?
  • What is the most prominent feature of the map? For example, is it transportation routes? Boundaries and land ownership? Topography?
  • Why would a map with these details be needed at the time it was made? Was the country at war? What form of transportation was most commonly used? Was the park easily accessible to the average citizen?
  • How might the cartographer have been trying to influence people's perception of the land? Why might he have tried to affect their perception in this way? Was he effective?

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