Map Work

Map Work


We have chosen to incorporate a variety of maps throughout this textbook. With the maps we try to communicate a number of points, one of which is that maps reflect the perspectives and choices of those who create them. A useful blog post that makes this point can be found at: This particular post shows a map of Africa with the U.S., China, India and most of Europe overlain on top of it. It also contains a clip from the U.S. television show “West Wing,” which explains the political biases of some maps, which can make Greenland seem to be the same size as Africa. In class it can be useful to show different maps and to discuss their origins and uses, such as the Mercator, Gall Peterson and Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection Map. It can be particularly useful to show a map that reverses the typical “north-is-on-the-top” projection. Some students at first may have difficulty recognizing that this is a world map, which tends to provoke a vigorous class discussion.


It can also be useful to start the class with a small group exercise around map making. Because students have to collaborate to make a map, this task asks them to work together, and seems to provoke a great deal of laughter. Here is one description of such a first day assignment.



A typical first day/week exercise may be one like that suggested by Dr. Stephen Frenkel at Portland State University:


“I do two sorts of map exercises. The first involves handing out a list of countries, cities, and physical features (plus a few specific places tied in to specific topics/readings) that I plan to cover during a two-week period. I generally give them 100 or so. I also give them a blank map (country outlines only—random ones I pull off the Internet). I let them figure out how to find the places (I do talk about different online atlases). Most students probably just use Google maps. Then on their regular quizzes there is always a map element (typically 15-20% of the grade) and it involves identifying a handful of places on the same blank map (it also makes it easier for me to get my point totals to come out even—just add or subtract a map ID). Nothing more, nothing less.


The other map exercise I do on the very first day. I hand out a blank piece of paper and ask them to draw a map (Africa, Latin America, the world, etc). I explain there is no right or wrong answer. I make sure no one puts names on their map. Then, I collect the maps, scan representative examples, and project them the next class. I use the maps as a jumping-off point for discussions on images/preconceptions of places. Then, if time allows, I do the same exercise at the end of the class to see/show how much they have learned. The maps are invariably more fleshed out and accurate.”


Sharing the results of the second map exercise can be a great teaching tool. There are certain recurring features that may be worth commenting on: with world maps, Africa often becomes an island, while Mexico is often nearly the same size as South America. Such results can form the basis for a powerful class discussion.


There are a variety of sources for blank maps, including:…/blankmaps/Blank_and_Outline_Maps.htm;; and Another website that our students have found helpful is They have used the games present on this site to better learn geographic regions. The base version of the software is free. While on the surface, the activity labels seem designed for the K-12 setting, our response from first- and second-year students has been very positive. The Washington Post also has a wonderful post titled “more maps that explain the world” at the following link: The maps at this site cover everything from human migration to global inequality. Frank Jacobs blog site “Strange Maps” has hundreds of maps that frequently touch on major global issues.

One of the best map resources for Global Studies is the graphic series in the National Post, one of the two major Canadian newspapers. The vault contains a rich array of images, which could be powerful tools in the classroom. What is striking is the sheer quantity of these outstanding works, as you can see at this site. The graphics vault probably has the best extant collection for the visual display of quantitative information in Global Studies. For example, Rubab Abid and Richard Johnson produced a striking series of maps (in a graphic work titled “Out of Africa’) that showed the level of investment by former colonial powers in Africa, as well as the natural resources that might have attracted them to these countries. This one chart could spark a powerful class discussion about the nature of neocolonialism in Africa. As with all items in the vault, it is possible to download a high-resolution copy from the site.

There are a number of other useful works in the “Graphics Vault,” such as Kathryn Blaze Carlson and Richard Johnson’s work on Canadian foreign aid, entitled “Follow the Aid Money.” The graphic tracks Canadian foreign aid spending through time, then traces the “countries of focus.” By far the biggest recipient of Canadian funds is Haiti, and it is fascinating to see how the funds are being disbursed. Another key graphic is the “World of Religion,” which not only displays the world’s religions by numbers of followers, but also shows the interconnections between them. Most students probably are not aware of the scale of China’s folk religions. The slave labor graphic beautifully illustrates the commodity chains that link consumers to slavery on a global basis.

There are also a wealth of resources that could be used in a discussion of global security issues. The graphic “Still Dying in Iraq” makes clear the scale of the ongoing violence in that country. A couple of other powerful graphics are “Syria’s Missile Arsenal” and “Nukes Ready to Fly,” which pictures all of the world’s nuclear missiles. The graphic Gun Nations would be a powerful tool for a class discussion of human security, and the way in which guns can shape the security of populations. Of course, this collection of maps reflects a Canadian perspective on the world, but that in itself can make it a useful tool for discussion.


Finally, the maps in our textbook are designed to facilitate discussion. These maps emphasize the importance of the tropics. For example, the belt around the equator on the world map highlights just how important this region is in terms of commodity chains, food sources, species and languages. A class activity for the “Realism and Human Security Map” can be found at this link: The intent of this exercise is to foster a critical discussion about how the United States views the world, and the factors that define maps. The text as a whole also contains map activities at the end of the relevant chapters.

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