E/MS Unit I

Activity 4: Examining Historic Maps for Information

Divide the class into groups of four; give each group four copies either of Seller’s 1675 map or Foster’s 1677 map. Ask students to determine what area their map represents and to identify a few key places that will help orient them. Students working with Foster’s map may be puzzled by its orientation. Ask the classwhat is “wrong” with this map? Why might Foster have made the map this way? Describe the types of tools cartographers had available to them in the seventeenth century.

Have each group locate the rivers and ocean and, once they agree, color them in blue. (Distribute magnifying glasses if available.) Students should then divide their map into quarters, with each student assigned to answer the following questions about his/her area:

  1. Which kinds of animal life are represented?
  2. Which topographical features are included?
  3. How are human beings depicted and what are they shown doing?
  4. Which towns are shown? Are they Indian villages or English settlements? Compare this map to the Big Maps the class created.

Once students have completed their individual work, ask them to discuss their findings in their small groups and work together to create a key for their map. Ask the whole class:

  1. What additional information did the maps provide about Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies?
  2. How do these maps compare to the Big Maps the class created? What might account for the differences?
  3. Why are rivers prominent on both maps? Are rivers so prominent on present-day maps of Massachusetts? Why or why not?
  4. What do the maps tell us about how Englishmen viewed the region?
  5. What are some differences between the way maps today (such as maps published by chambers of commerce) and maps from the 1600s are illustrated?

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