This is the online version of a paper scheduled to be 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. It will be presented in the H-Net Bill Cecil-Fronsman Memorial Panel on Teaching Innovation, in the Westin St. Francis California East Room, Sunday, January 6 in a session running 8:30 - 10:30 am.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 all confirmed map enthusiasts such as myself.
I've been using maps as much as possible for my entire teaching career, now over twenty-five years. Since I teach every area and era of world history, I've almost never met a map that I didn'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 use blank outline maps for student exercises and tests, and as a base on which to make my own maps of many sorts. Next semester, when I will be on sabbatical, I plan to teach myself simple animation, so I can begin making my own "moving maps."
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 very unhappy indeed. While in the past I have been grateful for each and every one of them, they are very limited in number and topic and usually try to combine so many different things that they are quite confusing to students. I do possess some reference CDs which contain some good maps, but can't easily show these through our classroom server-based projection system and may not, legally, use their images for online use.
Existing Online Map Sources
Of course, for traditional physical classroom use, the solution to my map needs is quite easy and relatively low-tech. There are a large number of good existing sources up on the web, from which one can easily capture digital copies of maps. These can then easily be printed out on overhead transparency film or inserted into PowerPoint inclass presentations. This is in fact how I got started using digital maps, and they continue to be a great resource for anyone teaching only in traditional closed classrooms and with very limited computer resources or expertise.
So let me stop briefly here to say a few things about using such maps, before going on to talk about how and why I've come to want to go well beyond them. First, where to find online maps:
For teaching historians, the University of Texas's Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection is usually first on their bookmark or favorites list, closely followed by the CIA World Factbook site for those teaching recent history. The CIA website has the distinct advantage, as a government site, of its images being in the public domain, so fair use. I often use HyperHistory's world and regional maps just because they are so basic and clear. Houghton Mifflin's Education Place Outline Maps offers a limited but fairly useful collection of academic fair use outline blank maps useful for testing or building your own maps. Finally, Shock-ing Geography is a very nice site to tell students to visit. It uses Shockwave to let students learn and test themselves about a whole variety of physical and political geography locations.
More generally, I find needed maps using my current favorite search engine, Google, set on its "Images" function. 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 very useful pages I wouldn't otherwise visit.
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 piece 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,
Why Go Beyond Existing On-line Digital Maps?
If capturing and showing existing maps in the low-tech classroom is so easy, why take the time and trouble to use more complex computer equipment and software to make other ones? For anyone wanting to put materials up on the web, the first -and very compelling - reason is legal. My university has now adopted the policy that all online classes, even though password protected, may not include substantial pieces of anyone's intellectual property without clear permission to use it. That means I can't include, without permission or clear evidence that it is copyright-free, any images either copied from the web or scanned in from print sources. Intellectual property rights also mean that I shouldn't put up on the open web anything copyright protected, including those images found on other websites.
Of course I could just tell my online students "it's there on the page X map in your book. Be sure to find it," - and make sure to confine myself to map points that can be found, eventually, on text maps. But I don't want to do that in an online class any more than I want to say that to students in a traditional classroom. If the text keeps mentioning Islamic intrusions into Sind, then I want to draw an arrow to it, or otherwise say "its right here." If we are studying the spread of disease over Mongol roads, migration routes through Africa, or differences in Chinese empires, I don't want to just say "go look at the map and figure it out."
And so when I decided to start teaching online I knew I had to learn how to make my own maps. The happy results of this decision are a) much better maps to use in all areas of my teaching and b) graphics editing skills that I can also use both for teaching images in general, 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 where I can put such maps. This spills over to benefit my traditional classes, as inclass Powerpoint presentations can be put up on the web as a study resource.
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 some "fair game" map that is not copyright protected. I do most of my copying from either fairuse government maps or some aged, out-from-under-copyright historical atlases. Once one sets out to find copy-able maps, it is usually not much of a problem.
Step Two: Tracing and Scanning
Old-fashioned as it may sound, tracing works best for me as a way to get just the image lines I want, and no others. Let me offer 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 but borders in pink. When copied in monochrome the pink borders will turn into a gray still distinct from the black rivers, etc. Right now I'm 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 set the scanner to about 300 dpi and full size, since I want a very good base image from which I can later blow up one section without it looking stretched and fuzzy.
Step Three: Image Editing
The next step is working with the scanned image, first to make a good outline master, and then to build a variety of different finished maps starting with that base. Here is where the technology can get somewhat more challenging. Assuming you don't already use one, what image editor should you use, why?
This depends both on what you want to do and what is most available to you. Any image editor will be able to do the basics to an existing image: crop, rotate, lighten and darken, resize, etc. But to be able to make maps that are usable online, you will need one that can both create layers on top of a base image, and help you recognize and make versions that give you both larger files for Powerpoint projection and smaller ones for quick-loading yet still sharp online images.
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.
Once one has got an image editor, making really useful maps is - if not a snap - at least really not that difficult. Just as one example, one of my favorite tools is Bucket Fill, by which I can, with just a few clicks, color in all the water on one outline map and all of the Habsburg-held lands on another. Bucket Fill, by the way, is the reason for my emphasizingfinding 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. Connected to this, I will further digress to pass on another small technological tip, again gained in the school of hard experience. When I do need to touch up a spot online but fear my mousework will just make it worse, I now just blow my whole working image up to about 700%, easily insert my mousework into the enlarged image, and then shrink it back to regular size - where the touchup usually looks masterfully-done.
But the real key to my map making lies in Photoshop's excellent ability to make image layers. It lets me build up any number of transparent "layers," each embedded with a dot showing a city's location, another showing its name, and then another with shading showing a desert or symbols for a mountain range. Below is one example of such a map, created for my online Changing World History course, but now used also in my traditional classroom version of that class, and put up online on the course's study resources page.
Saved in its original Photoshop layers version, such a map file is endlessly editable. If I change coverage and need to delete or add a feature, I just add or delete a layer. More important, if I want to have online students do a map exercise or quiz based on what they've learned from such a map, I can just tell 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, and ask my online students to identify each. Below see what one such Layers panel looks like:
The eye icons 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 project overhead in a traditional classroom. Below is an example of such a quiz map.
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, 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 5.5 features. With one click it shows me exactly what a number of different 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. I should perhaps add the warning that such editing abilities, once acquired, almost immediately led me to further down the graphics road of creating my own webpage graphics and upgrading hard-to-view teaching images such as faded photographs. Page titles are now often graphics files done in zippy fonts and enhanced by embossing, drop shadows and the like. I've begun to make my own webpage backgrounds and have ended up webmaster for three university webpages. One way or another I've taught a growing number of students how to make their own webpages, some of which have come out stunning. Since I find all of this very enjoyable, I am in fact grateful that my map creation needs got me started in this new area of teaching creativity. But in order to create basic maps, pretty basic image editing is all that it really takes.
Using Maps: Teaching Uses Summarized, Discussed Further
I've already talked some about this, but want to go a little further. Most of what I use maps for is very basic geographic orientation, drill and quizzing. For introductory world history, I believe that such instruction is vital, although certainly not my end goal. Most of my students start with almost zero geographic knowledge, and simply wouldn't "get" a wide array of points if they don't learn the meaning of a great number of geographic references. I therefore intersperse my own homemade maps throughout both my online essays and my inclass PowerPoint presentations. I include required Map Exercises in all sections of all World History online courses. These always require students to identify (using WebCT's Matching quiz feature) areas marked with numbers; the image below shows what the student online Map Exercise page looks like.H-Net Teaching Resources Project: Maps & More
This image shows one part of one map exercise, with one of the drop down matching boxes open for map location number 8. The map, with numbers replacing names for each location, is above just out sight. Students must scroll up and down between the map and their matching choices. Currently I give them two tries at each open-book map exercise, with the two scores averaged together if a second try is necessary. The emphasis thus is motivating students to figure out where important places are.
In addition online Map Exercises usually also include other questions asking students to show an understanding of what significance such map locations have to the dynamics of the history being studied. (One example would be questions on the difference between the geographic context of earliest Egyptian and Sumerian civilization; another would be an understanding of the dynamics involved with Monsoon wind formation and results.)
My recently created outline maps have also let me upgrade the maps I've long used in my traditional in-class map quizzes, in which students physically write the name of map locations onto a blank outline map, another copy of which they've had for practice. I often include one or more map-related question in all classes' short answer exams, mostly as a reward or goad for them to apply map knowledge outside the map exercises or quizzes themselves. Thanks to digital maps I can now do so using a specially prepared map. In our WebCT online course software I have the option of including an image with a short answer question, so sometime I include a closeup segment of one of the maps included in the Map Exercises. In a physical classroom, I can project a map overhead while telling the class what part of the exam it applies to. I've always tried to make clear the importance of including geographic context and understanding in course essays, whether concerned with the nature of Swahili or Mali civilization or the analysis of differing early Western trade relations with Africa and Asia. Now I'm now working on developing some essay options that begin with students looking at actual maps. One option gives students a map of the Silk Road with a variety of locations numbered, and asked them to write a narrative that followed the path of a trade item carried either west or east, including stops or mention of each numbered area. The students I've shown this question tell me they like it very much, and wish it had been one of their choices this last fall. I hope that as a result of this session, and perhaps discussion sparked by the online version of this paper, colleagues will suggest other ways I get students using maps to help them develop basic historic understandings.
If my students miss a class, or tell me that something we covered just "didn't compute," increasingly often I can suggest that they go visit my online essay, powerpoint presentation, or map resource page. Often this is all they need, but even when we still need to get together face-to-face, if they are able to look at the online resources our meetings are more productive. Certainly I've heard some colleagues worry that my students will just stop coming "in they can get in all online." So far I can only report that my class attendence - while never as complete as I'd like - seems about the same. I do admit that I help continued attendence along by encouraging regular class discussion and by continuing to do what one of my students recently called "telling a (heck) of a story."
Finally, I find it worth my time to make academic fairuse maps because it is one way that I, and my university, can "pay back" the all donors and tax payers that support us. If useful, usable maps were easily available from commercial sources, I wouldn't find it worth my while. But, as I began this paper saying, I cannot find a satisfactory variety of affordable maps, let alone maps that are also freely available to be inserted, without restriction, into online courses and publically-available websites. Luckily for me, I now have the time and resources to build up a collection of my own (admittedly amateur ones). I can then offer copies of these not only to my colleagues, but also to my students as they spread out over Kansas, often starting their teaching careers with almost no multi media resources by which to make sense of world history. It is my hope that eventually some of them will also be of use to teachers across the world, especially in places with very limited teaching resources.
This then leads me to my final topic, which is to describe the Online World Cultures Teaching Resources project that H-Net is moving towards getting started this coming year. What I want us to do is to create site where teachers can go to find academic fairuse maps, other images of all sorts, sound files, essays and texts. As I create them I plan to create all my own teaching maps, probably in three versions (75 dpi online, higher dpi Powerpoint, and Photoshop files). I'll hope that many others will also contribute theirs. Following up on a suggestion made years ago by Steven Leibo, we'll put out a call for travellers to contribute free academic use of photographs of famous landmarks, distinctive terrain, etc. I'd like us also to recruit people willing to create a sound file bringing alive bits of significant music (Chopin, Hindu chants, 19th century political songs, etc) or pronouncing important terms. Of course we'll want to gather together a large and always-growing collection of annotated links to already-existing useful online teaching resources. This is something in which I have every intention of getting involved and which I hope will be a major activity of the H-Teach network generally. All of this will also depend on a H-Net having a really good database into which to organize this, but such a database is now in the works.
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. But instead I have found that computers have empowered me to make amateur but quite usable teaching maps of my own, which I can then employ in a growing number of ways, and without restriction anywhere on the web. The skills first developed in making these maps I then built upon and used to create and improve all sorts of other kinds of teaching images and online teaching pages. Of course ultimately history is about making sense of the great questions, and helping students to develop their own abilities. But in order to do that, I want lots of maps, and have found that computers let me create them - eventually with enough time left over to go back to thinking about Big Bang theories of world history, how to pronounce the Empress Cixi's name, and other teaching challenges.