07 May 2013

The Map Series: How to Map History

How to Map History

A Case for Mapping History

In many ways, history itself is a map. A good knowledge of world history will allow you to piece together the prominent events and people over a given period of time and understand how they all fit together. That knowledge will provide you with a map that can lead you to where things originated and how they got to be the way they are today. Much like a pirate map that leads you to buried treasure, marked with an X, history may also lead you to an understanding of the world that has been lost to the past.

Philip Schaff, an historian who produced comprehensive Christian histories such as History of the Christian Church and Creeds of Christendom, once said, "History is, and must ever continue to be, next to God's word, the richest foundation of wisdom, and the sweet guide to all successful and practical activity." If you try to understand the Bible or any other written work without understanding what the world was like in which it was written, you are sure to misinterpret most of what you are reading and most of what you're observing about the world, because you will anachronistically apply your own current perspective onto the past. If you're going to be successful now, you have to understand the past.

My wife gave me a great gift sometime last year discovered at an estate sale where she and my mother-in-law were working. It's a 1917 Edition of The New Encyclopedic Atlas & Gazetteer of the World. One of my favorite things about the book is what you will find in the first few pages. There is a color map of the world and the following description:

I don't know if you noticed in the description, but it says things like "Showing New Boundaries Of All Foreign States And Their Dependencies - Newly Organized Countries And Other State Changes Within The United States - Latest Maps Of The War Zones". Observing those important details would give you some very good insights about the end of World War 1, what led to World War 2, and an understanding of tensions that exist between countries in the world today. Now, let's attempt to map some history.

A Few Ways to Map History

Compare historical maps

One way to map history is to compare a series of maps from one location as they were developed over time. In the first post of this series I used an example of two maps of the earth, one from the 1st century and the other from the 21st century. If you were to take maps of the world from every century and compare them, you could learn how maps were developed over time and what new information was learned about the earth over that time period. Each change in the maps would show you when information was gained or lost. You would actually be mapping the history of world maps.

Use one map of a given area and trace history on that map

Another way to map history would be to take a single map and mark known historical people and events on that map. You can list when and where certain things happened. One of the benefits of doing this is seeing and comparing certain events that happened at the same time in different parts of the world. Often, a challenge of studying the history of one particular place is that we don't understand the history within the context of what was happening in other places at the same time. 

Here are some resources that can assist you in mapping history.

Create a map of historical relationships

This kind of map could look somewhat like a family tree. Imagine if you created a personal family tree and placed all the information on a map. You could trace your family's history over time and location. You could trace their migration from one country or city to another and understand why and how they moved.

These are a few ideas for mapping history. Do you have any other ideas?

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