Textbooks and teachers often tell students about German scientist Alfred Wegener who went public in 1912 with his theory of continental drift. The scientific community did not widely accept Wegener’s ideas during his lifetime and often derided colleagues who entertained the theory. Wegener passed away in 1930. Even as Marie Tharp was creating maps in the 1950s, scientists were actively constructing ideas and compiling evidence related to seafloor spreading and magnetic striping.
What might a map from 1977, a poster from 1944, and a newspaper article from 1915 have in common with three twentieth century wars and the theory of plate tectonics? These three digitized artifacts in the Library of Congress’s collection have quite a bit in common when it comes to the emergence of evidence supporting a key theory in Earth science.
In addition to my regular job, I volunteer to work with K-12 students who come to visit our division. During my presentation, I show the students the differences between their neighborhood or school library and a large map research library like the Library of Congress.
One way to engage students with the wealth of maps available from the Library of Congress is to discuss their value as sources of information as well as means to find a location or plan a route.
Most students think of maps as wayfinders, resources to help find their way from point “A” to point “B.” However, maps have been created for a variety of different reasons, and studying maps from the Library of Congress can show students how maps can do more than provide directions.
Use maps to develop fun, yet meaningful, activities across disciplines for students at any level.
If you were to ask your students, “What is a map?” what do you think they would say?