Maps are fascinating. Little kids always try to figure them out and then most will at some time try to draw their own, usually as a pirate treasure map. They help children to orient on places and objects. Interestingly enough, the maps or the world have all changed over time and are even changing today. New countries get formed from the pieces of failed countries. Just 25 years ago there was a huge country known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, not most students couldn’t tell you the borders of the U.S.S.R. It is because of this fascination with maps and that they change due to politics that maps can be an excellent tool to teach history!
Take some of the maps showing the ancient cities and civilizations. All are found along rivers. Why? Because historically people have always relied on and needed water. Not just water to drink, but also water for agriculture and even for transport. The Egyptians would have had major problems moving those stones without the Nile to help! In India it is the Ganges. About the only major river with no “great” civilization associated with it was the mighty Mississippi! Map out the rivers and you can map out how the cultures spread!
Maps can also be used to explain much of the history of world events. Check out the mountain ranges, they are frequently where walls and borders for countries are defined. They are also where many major battles were won and lost (as many battles are lost as are one, each battle has one of each!). They often were where little countries were established, usually neutral or peaceful places such as Tibet, Switzerland, and Nepal.
You can also use maps to show politics and how they have changed over time. The rise and fall of empires can all be shown on maps. Those maps then give a means of opening discussions on other historic issues. Where was the larges single empire and who ruled it (It was Mongolia under Genghis Khan)? Why did it collapse? Show it with maps!
So you can teach trade routes, wars, empires and the spread of civilizations using maps. You can also teach it in a fun and interesting fashion. Isn’t that what history and education should be all about? Why not map out your history lessons using maps!