This is the online revised version of a paper given at the January 2002 American Historical Association Meeting in San Francisco by Sara W. Tucker, Professor of History, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, firstname.lastname@example.org.Introduction
For a number of years now I have spent a large amount of my time teaching introductory sections of World History - a challenge that I enjoy greatly. Over the past several years I've also started teaching online classes offered completely via the internet - another teaching challenge that I love. Not everyone envies me this rich teaching life - quite a few of my colleagues consider me crazy, first to want to teach the bottomless topic of world history and second, to add the great complication of learning to use online computer technology. Certainly there are days when I wonder if they don't have a point. But usually I tell them that if computers are sometimes the problem, they are also often a part of the solution, and nowhere more so than in what they can do for confirmed map users such as myself.
I've been using maps as much as possible for my entire teaching career, which now spans twenty-eight years. Since I teach every area and era of world history, I almost never meet a map that I don't like - and want to acquire for one or another teaching situation. I regularly use hundreds and hundreds of "filled out" maps both in the traditional classroom and in my online classes, as well as increasingly putting them online in various study and teaching resources web-pages. I also use great varieties of blank outline maps for student exercises and tests, and increasingly as bases on which to make maps of my own.
If I were stuck using the maps physically available in my department (a battered collection of old hanging maps and slides) plus the transparency sets provided by text publishers and others, I'd be much more limited than I want to be. Traditional physical classroom maps are often hard for students to see, a pain to carry about, and tend to disappear when their use is shared within a department. All of the publishers' transparency maps, while appreciated, also have serious limits. They can't be used online without modification, plus all those that have come my way have been very limited in number and topic and usually have tried to combine too many different things, making them quite confusing to students. Reference CDs sometime offer a few good digital maps, even those often can't easily be used through a campus server system, or have copyright restrictions either against any modification or use on an open online course reference site.
So in this situation I've found it well worth my while to invest the time to build up my own map resources. Some strategies have proved very simple, and worth recommending to almost all colleagues. Others are more time- and resource-intensive, but well worth it for at least some instructors in circumstances similar to my own.
A Note on Copyright
Thanks to the 2002 TEACH act, instructors may make use of a reasonable amount of password protected materials not only within physical classrooms but also online, in password protected course sites. But it is still best to seek out unrestricted fairuse maps first, and always wise to include in file names information on whether an image is fairuse or not. That is because, as instructors grow more experienced and technology sometimes grows much easier to use, you never can be sure you won't someday be interested in going beyond closed classroom interaction with your students. Maps made available for unrestricted academic fairuse (thus including the right to post on the open web and to modify at least within respectful limits) are endlessly flexible. In-class presentations built on fairuse materials can be posted on the open web for later student reference, without the need to search out and remove copyrighted materials. Outline maps traced from copyright-free maps are taint-free, whereas those traced or otherwise from copyrighted original sources at least should not be used on the open web.
For these reasons I recommend always first seeking out copyright-free materials. Those I save with a file name ending in "OK" (ex: "OttomanEmp1580ok.gif") to tell me the image is fairuse. Ones that I know aren't fairuse I save with an "X" at the end of the file name which also includes source information (ex: "AmericaCentralNowCNNx.gif") so that if necessary I know where to go to seek out use permission. Unfortunately there are not yet nearly enough fully copyright free maps, so I end up also taking copies of many limited-use maps. But it is always worth it to keep in mind the ideal, and keep on the lookout for the best sources of fairuse maps, and when possible also to make one's own contribution to the total such maps available to academic colleagues.
Having said that, to return to the world of here and now reality, it is also worth it to harvest all possible useful maps, whether copyright-free or not, and to make the broadest possible use of them right now. Someday things may be different, but for me it's worth it to use what's available now, to serve the students I'm charged with teaching, also right now.
World Wide Web Maps: Rich Source for Teaching Images
The first and usually easiest source of existing maps is the world wide web. There are already a large number of good existing online websites from which one can easily capture digital copies of maps. The easiest, least technologically difficult, way to use them is simply to print them out on overhead transparency film. The resulting image can be displayed using the overhead projectors which are standard in almost all traditional college classrooms. Assuming a computer-equipped classroom, it is also not much of a further technological step to insert such images in Power also for classroom projection. Online use of digital maps is yet one further technological step, but with enough technology support, may also be quite possible once one has a good enough collection of images.
Where and how to find online maps: For teaching historians, the University of Texas's Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection is usually a first entry on a Favorites (Explorer browser) of Bookmark (Navigator browser) list, since it contains a great many very detailed maps for just about all historic eras and areas. The CIA World Factbook site is excellent for those teaching recent history and events, while the Ancient World Mapping Center Maps for Students site offers very useful maps on ancient Greece and Rome. All three sites have the distinct advantage of their images being copyright free. The CIA's are so because it is a goverment site; Perry-Castaneda's are so because they were scanned in from out-of-copyright images and then provided online with a statement clearly making them available for non-profit academic use. HyperHistory's world and regional maps are limited in both number and complexity, but are sometimes useful just because they are so basic and clear. Unfortunately they are not copyright-free, so should be used only in the classroom and in protected online sites.
I have recently found an increasing, although still limited, number of useful sources for blank black-and-white outline maps. The National Geographic Society's Xpeditions site offers a dozen outline maps (the world, the continents, and a few others), each of which can be viewed in either .gif or .pdf format, with or without political boundaries, and with or without location names visible. What is particularly nice is that all are available for unrestricted non-commerical use, either in the classroom or online. The Florida Geographic Alliance site's Resources section also offers blank outline maps freely available for use "in any lesson or classroom." Note that the maps all come only in .pdf format, which produces very nice printed maps, but ones that are somewhat more complex to try to alter with a graphics program. Graphic Maps Free Clip Art Outline Maps offers a pretty good selection of very simple black and white outline maps of the world, all continents and regions. Most are drawn with modern political boundaries but a few are without. All area available for almost unrestricted use, with a link back to the site. The site also offers some "name the country/territory/city" Map Tests, with answers provided but no online grading. Houghton Mifflin's Education Place Outline Maps also offers a much more technically limited but fairly useful collection of outline blank maps. The site says that they "may be printed and copied for personal or classroom use," and also gives a contact address to seek permission for other uses. Finally, About.com's Blank and Outline Maps page provides a broad variety of very well updated links other useful sites.
Several websites offer interaction of one sort or another. Shock-ing Geography is a very nice site to send students to visit. It uses Shockwave to let students learn and test themselves about a whole variety of physical and political geography locations. The catch here is that many campus server systems (such as my own, so far) don't come equipped with Shockwave, making it impossible to use on-campus. Historical Atlas of the 20th Century is another site worth recommending that students visit, or perhaps linking to in class. It is strongly interpretive, focusing on the Great Powers (including China). A number are interactive or animated; some can be harvested as either still or computer displayed classroom images.
While all of the above sites are among those I go to first, when looking for a map, my most basic tool for finding maps online remains the internet search engine. By preference, I use Google, usually set on its "Images" function. On that setting, when I put something like "Israel 1967 map" into the search box, it quickly brings up a good assortment of thumb-size map images. I click on the most likely, am taken to the page containing the full-size image, and am usually all set. As a bonus, this approach also takes me to a lot of generally very useful pages I wouldn't otherwise visit.
Showing the maps: All such map and other images are then very easy to make usable in the traditional classroom. If I'm not in a classroom wired for computers, I just open a word processing page, import my chosen map images into it, resize them for maximum effect, and use an inkjet printer to print the resulting page out on transparency film. You do have to be careful to use transparency film specifically intended for inkjet printers; this kind has a slightly rough surface to which the ink sticks fairly well. If I want to draw on the resulting images, I'm also careful to put a smooth protective film layer over it, to keep the map ink from smearing. Often several images can be combined on one sheet of film, and the whole file saved to pass on to colleagues or for future modification.
It's even easier if your classroom is set up to project PowerPoint shows. Map images can simply be imported onto a blank slide, and then if necessary resized, cropped, and even subjected to a limited about of contrast/brightness fine-tuning. Do note that often maps taken from the web lose a certain about of crispness and color density when projected, so more strongly colored, larger-scale maps are sometimes the best ones to seek out for PowerPoint use. On the other hand, if the original map is too large, it may have to be scaled back to fit on the slide, making location words hard to read. Basically you may just have to do a bit of experimenting to get a sense of what works best in your individual circumstances.
Digital Maps Step Two: Why Go Beyond Existing On-line Resources
This then brings me to second stage digital map work. Despite all the map resources out there, there often isn't just the right map, containing just what you want on it, or perhaps leaving off all those things you don't want on it. Perhaps your map is too small, too big, too pastel (so all detail is lost when projected), or too something else. Perhaps you've got a very good map, but it has copyright restrictions and you've decided you want one you can put up on the open web, or modify in some forbidden way. Perhaps you want to be able to make very specialized quiz maps for your online course. In fact, I got started partly for both of those reasons. Once I'd made the leap into graphics editing, I discovered that a) it isn't all that hard to get started, b) it really did produce
a much better, more varied collection of maps to use in all areas of my teaching and c) the graphics editing skills I acquired are also useful both for creating teaching images in general (ex: lightening or crisping up faded photos) and in building better looking webpages.
In what ways are my own maps better? First, within the limits of my technological abilities, I get to create exactly the map I want, showing everything I want, with all distracting other information removed. And as long as I've taken nothing from any copyrighted source, there is no limit to what I can do with such maps, including making them available on the open web, for all of my students to visit any time, as often as they want. Former students, now out teaching in some fairly remote areas, tell me they are particularly grateful for such open resource sites - and urge me to put up more maps, as soon as possible!
Second, if I build it right, I can use each map in many different ways. I almost always start with a fairly simple blank outline foundation, which I print and hand out, as is, in my traditional classroom, for students to use either for review or in map quizzes. These outlines then also serve as the foundations on which I can either build filled-in teaching maps or on which I can insert numbers for online map quizzes. All can again be put, without limit, into either online courses or up on the open web.
So just what is involved, for an amateur such as myself, in making at least respectable-looking teaching maps?
Making Maps: The Technology of How To Do It
Step One: Finding a Fairuse Map to Copy
Some day I want to be able to really make my own maps, from scratch, as the geographers do. As far as I can tell, that means getting access to and learning to use GIS software from which to generate the actual outlines we all call maps. But until that day comes, I have to start by finding an appropriate map that is not copyright protected. I do most of my copying from either fairuse already-digitalized maps or some aged, out-from-under-copyright historical atlases. Thus my great attention to those fairuse map websites listed above. But even when they have no appropriate map to offer, once one sets out to find copy-able maps, it is usually not much of a problem.
Simple Step Two: Tracing and Scanning
Old-fashioned as it may sound, tracing still often works best for me as a way to get just the image lines I want, and no others. It is by far the quickest approach, and often gives me all I need.
Let me start by offering some nitty-gritty details here, learned the hard way.
- Use only very transparent tracing paper so you can see exactly what you are copying
- Use quick flowing but very fast drying marker pens to trace, to give you smooth, unbroken lines that don't smear as you move your hand
- If you want to show political as well as physical boundaries, consider doing rivers and shore lines in strong black and then doing borders in pink. When copied in monochrome the pink borders will show up as a gray that is clearly distinguishable distinct from the black rivers, etc. Otherwise rivers and borders tend to all blend together into one snarl of lines. Right now I do my tracing using Sharpie permanent markers in various thicknesses and colors, which work very well.
Any sort of color scanner at all seems to work just fine to scan in a map tracing. I usually set the scanner to about 300 dpi, or dots per inch. I also usually set the scan to be done full size, since I want a very good base image from which, if I need to, I can later blow up one section without it looking stretched and fuzzy. I may also do a second scan, set at 75 dpi, if I know I want to have a large size map to use online (since monitors don't show more than 75 dpi, it is a waste to create more detailed dpi files, which both take up more space to store and take longer to load).
Simple Image Editing
If possible, it is useful to be able to do at least a bit of image editing even for the simplest pen-traced maps. My pen-traced scans usually end up with a few smears or specks, and with the blank areas more cream than white. Just a couple of dabs with a white pen tool take care of the smears and specks, and a bit of fiddling with contrast turns the cream to bright white. But one of the most useful things a graphics program offers is Bucket Fill (or something of a name similar to that). With it I can, with just a few clicks, color in all the water on one outline map and all of the territory of Habsburg-held lands on another. Bucket Fill, by the way, is the reason for my emphasizing finding a tracing pen that makes a very smooth line. Below is an example of a simple outline map, with the difference between landmass and water made very clear thanks to Bucket Fill.
Any traced line that skips even a little bit will leave gaps through which Bucket Fill will ooze, and thus a color meant to indicate the Black Sea waters might spread across all of Eurasia. Happily Photoshop lets one endlessly reverse steps, so one simply moves back a step, and the waters recede!
Connected to this, here's another technical tip. When I do need to touch up a spot online but fear my mousework will just make it worse, I use the same enlargement technique I use for digital tracing. With an image temporarily enlarged 700%, I can easily insert my mouse touchup into the enlarged image, and then shrink it back to regular size. The touchup then usually looks masterfully-done.
Somewhat More Time-Consuming Alternative: Digital Tracing
Sometimes it's worth it to me to invest a fair bit more time to do my tracing digitally, within a graphics editing program. I am very glad that I followed the excellent advice I got just as I was starting, and begin with the best: Photoshop. Certainly even in its academic version it is not cheap: I paid about $280 delivered. I'm glad I did - I use it almost every day. But I could also use it, free, at my university, where it is available on several of our servers. Several of my colleagues swear by Paint Shop Pro, saying it does everything they would want of Photoshop, but is much less expensive, and thus a better software to teach to students (who often can't afford Photoshop). Overall it is probably best to ask around your institution to find out what software may be available for you to use free, and for which you can get training of some sort. If nothing of that sort is is available, look at what may have come with an available scanner or printer - today many come with quite advanced editors bundled into their software packages.
The basic process of digital tracing isn't hard. I open up my fairuse map image in Photoshop; it becomes my background layer. I then open up a series of different transparent layers, each dedicated to tracing one or more features from the background map. I start with shorelines, done in black. Rivers I then do - usually on a separate layer - in a strong navy blue, which will come out black if reduced to monochrome, but have the advantage of being distinct from shorelines when seen in color. Borders are done on yet another layer, in my preferred shade of medium pink. Generally I set the graphics program to magnify the image up to perhaps 700%. This lets me see exactly what I am doing as I trace using a one or two pixel pen function. Mountains can also be shaded in, perhaps in a purple or lavendar wash set at perhaps 33% opacity. Deserts might be tan, jungles green, etc. Each of course gets its own layer. Towards the end I then set the original, background layer at invisible, and suddenly all that shows are the elements I've chosen to trace.
Example: map built up by digitally tracing many separate features, each on its own separate layer
What is the advantage of all this, which does indeed take a lot more time than just a quick trace using a felt pen? Basically, what I get is much greater flexibility, plus - if I'm careful - more accurate tracing. Perhaps I sometimes want a lot of rivers showing, and sometimes only a few. If borders are what matter, perhaps I want no physical elements showing except shorelines. The trick is first to put each element on a different layer, and also to always save the result first as a Photoshop file, in which all layers remain separate, with each one capable of being set at either visible or invisible. Geographic names, and dots showing city locations are also each put on separate layers, which can be left either visible or invisible, depending on whether the map is provided for information or quizzing.
Such flexibility is especially valuable for online classes. If I want to have online students do a map exercise or quiz based on what they've learned from a specific map, I use the editor to hide certain layers, and all of the names identifying cities, deserts, seas, etc disappear. In their place I can add numbers identifying each location, and ask my online students to match a list of location names with numbers. They are being quizzed from exactly the same image they're used to, which eliminates any cries of "but it looked different in the map we studied." Below see what one such Layers panel looks like:
The eye icons at the far left show which layers are visible, thus this configuration is for a "filled in" map with location labels visible. If I reverse things, and make visible only the numbers, I've got a quiz map to use online or to project overhead in a traditional classroom. One refinement that I've only recently figured out is visible in the second from bottom layer labelled "Jerusalem, Samaria ..." This is a non-text layer on which I placed two dots, showing where the ancient cities of Samaria and Jerusalem were located. Originally the layer was simply titled "Layer 2," giving no clue to what feature it contained. I've learned to double click the "Layer XXX" label, which lets me key in a specific layer title. In this case, when the layer box is a little wider, it reads "Jerusalem, Samaria dots." Thus if I also wanted to hide or remove those dots, I wouldn't have to click the eyes on and off of each and every mystery Layer 1, Layer 2, etc, to find the right layer to hide.
Below is an example of a quiz map, on which all of the text has been replaced by numbers.
These maps are pretty typical of the kinds of maps I'm now making, except that they are actually somewhat less garish than my most current ones. This garishness is the result of another of my real-life discoveries: the map colors that look just fine on my screen will tend to project, at least least in our classroom setups, as much lighter and less distinct. So I'm now making my PowerPoint base version of map outlines and region colors first, done in fairly large size files at 200 or 300 dpi and in very bright colors. I then make a quicker-loading 75 dpi version for online use, and sometimes also fade the colors out to a more delicate online look, just for my own satisfaction. These I then "Save for the Web" using one of my favorite Photoshop features. With one click it shows me exactly what a number of different .jpg and .gif compressed versions of my image file would look like, together with the number of seconds each would take to load. I can then choose whichever file type gives me the quickest loading time without unacceptable fuzziness.
In terms of image editing techniques I use to produce usable teaching maps, these are the main ones. While I didn't figure out how to do it in a couple of hours one afternoon, it certainly wasn't that hard or complicated even working mostly on my own. The result has been worth it many times over. I'd have great difficulty teaching online world history if I weren't able to make and amend my own digital maps is absolutely crucial to the way I teach online world history. Now that I've got a good array of base outline maps, I'm usually able to make a new "this is where it is" demonstrater map whenever I need one (which is often). Once I've got a complicated demonstrater map created, the numbered quiz map needs only the substitution of some numbers for some location labels.
My recently created outline maps have also let me upgrade the maps I've long used in my traditional classroom. I'm now showing on-campus students more and more maps originally created for un in my online classes. On these maps I've painstakingly figured out ways to show, permanent form, that which in the old days I used simply to demonstrate by drawing in various shades of chalk. Frankly, I suspect the digital version is a lot better than the smeary chalk one, which had the additional disadvantage of being almost invisible to those in the back of the room. More important the new maps, being permanent, can be made available for student viewing any time, not just once, on one day, to those present (and awake) in that class. If fairuse, they can go up on a permanent public website; if not, I can put them in a password protected course supplement site, to which all students receive the password. But if website creation were not something I did anyway, other options are also possible. These days, creating cd-roms is both easy and inexpensive, making quite possible the production of a supplementary course cd-rom, to be supplied to each student. Or even more simply, the most basic maps could be printed out and photocopied, to be distributed regularly in class.
To sum it all up: if I had to depend on old-style commercially-produced maps to teach world history online, or even in the traditional classroom, I would indeed be very frustrated in my current teaching assignments, both by a general lack of sufficient maps, and by copyright barriers to using even those available online. Instead computers let me find, duplicate for class use, and even create my own amateur but quite usable teaching maps. These I can then employ in a growing number of ways, and without restriction anywhere on the web. A great amount can be accomplished by anyone able to browse the web and operate an ink jet printer and a scanner. Graphics editing software can definitely be both complex and time-consuming to use, but can be tackled in very small, approachable phases. Once acquired, mid-range graphics skills also pay off when working with all sorts of other teaching images and even website graphics. At that point, various other teaching opportunities also open up, such as web-project classes in which students each develop their own major websites. But that is another story.