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[Detail] Map of Liberia. Lith. by E. Weber & Co., 1845.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Map of Liberia, West Africa. 183-?

Map of Liberia, West Africa. 183-?.

In this exercise, students will learn to analyze and interpret the settlement patterns depicted on a map and to determine the possible accuracy of the maps. Prior to looking at the maps, have students complete the following activity to gain perspective on settlement patterns and mapping. Students can first consider the factors that might influence their own decisions of where to settle a new land.

  • What adverse conditions would they avoid?
  • What natural resources and landscape features would they look for?
  • Remind the students that the colonists were arriving by ship from the sea. How might their means of travel affect the location of settlements?

Next, present students with a sketched map of Liberia identifying only geographic features and the location of neighboring peoples, indicating if they are friendly or not. Use the early map of Liberia below as a base map by tracing the features other than the location of settlements.

Ask the class to assume the role of colonists on a ship traveling across the ocean to a foreign land. They have only this map and must decide where to land their ship and where to build their first settlement. Have them represent their decisions on the map. They should draw in their travel route, location of settlements, what buildings they will construct at those sites and what trails or roadways they might build.

Pause in the process here to discuss mapping accuracy with the students by asking these questions:

  • In reality, how might their travel route vary from the one they have drawn?
  • How easy might it be to remember, document, and describe the travel route to others?
  • When they wrote in their settlement locations, how precise were they? Did they draw to scale? Did they indicate the scale on the map?
  • How much accuracy did they use in drawing their land travel routes?
  • Of course, the students are not actually in Liberia to gather all the needed data to be extremely accurate. If they had been there between 1830 and 1870, what tools would have been available for data collection? What information would they collect? How accurate could they assume it would be?

Now show students the original map with the settlement locations. They will first be interested in noting if they chose to settle the same areas as the colonists. Do the settlements appear to have been influenced by the same factors the students considered? Are there additional factors not considered by the students?

Then students can interpret the accuracy of the maps based on their responses to the questions above. Have them analyze the information provided on the map by looking for such things as a legend and scale. If these are not provided, what might the student assume about the map's accuracy? Based on their responses to the questions above, how likely is it that the map has inaccuracies? What might they be? How does this affect the way you read the map? If one doubted the accuracy of a map, one could compare it to others. Have students compare their map to others in the collection. What are the similarities and differences? If there are differences among the maps, how can we determine which is most accurate?