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Lesson Plan Local History: Mapping My Spot

Students often think of history as tattered documents, worn photographs, and musty books, all of which have little or no relevance to their lives. Maps provide an often-overlooked source of information and a new and compelling perspective on the past. By revising the work of early twentieth century cartographers, and understanding the underlying motivation for their work, students can claim a historical spot of their own.

In an era of great mobility and immigration of families from other countries, students' homes are a haven and an anchor in a neighborhood. By learning about architectural styles and periods and identifying the best features of their homes, students begin to see their homes as places of value in relation to the broader community portrayed on the panoramic map of their town.

Students create their town’s history for coming generations and place themselves on the map in a literal as well as figurative sense, by producing portions of an updated version of an early twentieth century panoramic map from the collections of the Library of Congress. To complete this project, they gather information from a variety of primary sources, including the early twentieth century map, photographs, drawings, and site visits. Each student contributes to the revised map by creating a contemporary map of her or his block.


Students will be able to:

  • become familiar with panoramic and other kinds of maps as primary sources of historical information and become proficient at observing and interpreting maps;
  • appreciate their own role in affecting and making history; and
  • contribute to a revised panoramic map of their town.

Time Required

Three to four weeks

Lesson Preparation


Lesson Procedure

Activity One - Investigating Maps

Students analyze several different types of maps.

Prior to the lesson:

Search the map collections for examples and information that will be useful in helping students to interpret what they see. Assemble a variety of maps (contour, birds eye, panoramic) from various historical periods.

  1. Students identify and examine the different kinds of maps. Invite them to consider and discuss what kinds of maps they're familiar with, and to compare the familiar maps to the historical maps. Lead students in an in-depth discussion of panoramic maps--their history, vocabulary, and purpose--as a form of persuasive medium designed to "sell" a city or town. Visit the Panoramic Maps collection and read about the maps and their creators.
  2. Students compare and contrast the various maps in terms of scale, point of view, detail, date, purpose, and uses. Students record their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Maps to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.

Activity Two - Investigating Community

Students analyze a historical map of their community and identify recognizable sites. They date the homes on their block and place their own homes in an historical context.

  1. Arrange for time in the computer lab.
  2. Students investigate a historical map of their community, such as the Dover, New Jersey 1903 panoramic map and locate sites that have personal meaning for them (the streets on which they live, schools, parks, and other places they frequent).
  3. Students collect data about their homes:
    1. Check one:
      I live in a house
      I live in an apartment
    2. The best features of my home are: (check one or more)
      It's close to transportation
      It's close to schools
      It's close to recreational facilities
      It's been remodeled recently
      It's on a quiet street
      It has a large yard
      It is very old (historic building)
      (Write in another feature)
    3. Check one and fill in the blank
      I know my home was built in the year______
      I think my home is about______years old
    4. My home has the following spaces
      Dining room
      Family room
      Garage (for______cars)
      Finished basement
      Other room(s)?
  4. Students take photographs of their homes.
  5. Students should look at the block on which they live. Students should be able to report on the number of houses on the block. Request other information, such as the number of stories each house has, as it meets your requirements for the project.
  6. For record-keeping purposes, keep a master file with the following information:
  • First and last name of student
  • Address
  • City or town
  • Nearest important building or landmark
  • Digital picture number or filename
  • Year in which house was built or approximate age if year cannot be determined

Activity Three - Real Estate Advertising

Students connect with the original purpose of panoramic maps-attracting prospective residents, businesses, and investors to the town-as they look at their own homes through the eyes of potential buyers or renters. They examine real estate advertisements and create advertisements for their own homes.

  1. Collect a variety of home real estate ads that include photographs from a local newspaper. Saturday and Sunday newspaper editions usually provide the best selection. Enlarge and duplicate enough copies for each student to have three or four different ads. Ask students to do the following:
    • note the kind of information given in each ad;
    • observe the layout of the ad and print size for each type of information;
    • interpret abbreviations;
    • determine what kind of person might be a potential buyer for each home; and
    • look at the asking price.
  2. Students apply what they have learned about their homes advertising to create real estate ads for their own homes. Ads should include photos and descriptive text highlighting the positive characteristics of their homes.

Step Four - Creating Personal Maps

Students create a collage by drawing or photographing the homes and other structures on their blocks. After the blocks are completed and joined, students write letters to future children in their community explaining the mapping project.

  1. Students create a collage that represents their blocks. Students paste the buildings to a paper backing in the correct position and add trees, streets, and other features, as needed (At this point, the drawings are not yet joined with other blocks and may be larger than they will appear in the final product).
  2. Photocopy the collages, adjusting the size as necessary, to fit the size of the finished map.
  3. Students write to children who live in their community in the year 2103. The letters should:
    • explain the project;
    • explain how working on the map has made them a part of history;
    • explain how they have made history by working on the map; and
    • invite the recipient to make a 2103 edition of the map.


Students continue to draw grid sections of the contemporary map. Section by section, they gather data about structures erected since 1903. Students create drawings of those structures and affix them to the new map.

Further extension activities:

  1. Students examine the panoramic photo of their town's main street from the American Memory collection Panoramic Photographs. They identify buildings that are still standing and those that are not. In journals, they speculate on the activities of the people in the photo. They create their own contemporary panoramic photo of the same vista. Finally, they make a videotape of a student walking down the main street narrating what she or he sees compared with that in the turn of the century photo.
  2. Students examine antique local postcards from the collection of a community member. They match the postcard images to buildings on the map. In their journals, they respond to the messages written by the senders of the postcards.
  3. Students observe and respond in journals to photos of children from the American Memory collection, Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920. Students compare and contrast photos of children from 1900-10 to those of today.
  4. Students make presentations to a variety of audiences, explaining their work as cartographers.

Lesson Evaluation

Students will be assessed based on the contents of portfolios that include the following:

  1. Real estate ads
  2. Copies of collages representing the blocks where they live
  3. Letters to students in the year 2103


Judy Klement and Elizabeth Park