Sections 1-3

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Section 1: Introduction to maps


What are maps? The child is given a simple explanation of what a map is and why maps are useful. (For developing children's concepts of maps further see also Geography, 5th and 6th, Maps and Map reading and the teacher notes which accompany that geography unit.) Children are shown how maps were written in all sorts of ways and on all sorts of materials in the past.

Teaching points: Maps were not always made in the same way; maps have changed. Maps generally showed routes, landmarks and some boundaries and in the early days, unlike nowadays, there was not a uniform system of symbols. Later maps were more elaborate and were made for people who had wealth and power.

Older maps: Some examples of materials on which maps were made are introduced such as clay, vellum and silk with pictures to accompany some of these. Children find out that in the past maps were valuable particularly to large landowners as well as being useful for warfare. They will come to see that detailed maps were paid for by those who were more powerful in society.

Section 2: History of Maps

A chronological approach is taken to presenting information about maps in the past.

Very early maps are introduced. Children can see images of old maps such as a map from Babylon of 2500 B.C. and an Egyptian map from 1200 B.C. can be seen. These images can be enlarged. The teacher could help children to compare and contrast these maps to modern maps.

Children find out about maps of early Greece. They will find out about the famous map maker Ptolemy (c.100-168). They find out about how Ptolemy made his maps and what became of them. Children could use this information to make a story board about his life.

Children learn about the Middle Ages and an example of a medieval map is shown, a world map by the Moroccan cartographer al-Idrisi from 1154. Teachers can project this image and ask "What part of the world seems to be important on this map?" Children can find out that many Medieval maps placed Jerusalem at the centre of the map due to the importance of Christianity at the time.

Questions to ask: What kind of evidence remains to tell us about maps long ago? Does all map evidence survive? Why not? Why did Ptolemy's maps not survive?

Children learn that maps were improved and became more accurate due largely to better sailing and the voyages of exploration made in the 15th and 16th centuries. Children learn that maps became important to the competing powers of Spain and Portugal as they laid claim to lands of what was called the New World. At this time also the invention of printing allowed for the mass production of maps through printed maps from woodcuts to the later copperplate engravings. Children will learn about Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), the famous Flemish map maker, and they can examine some of his early maps. Teachers can also point out that Mercator's maps created the first effective way of showing the world on a flat surface rather than a globe.

Teachers can point out that Mercator's map put Europe at the centre of the map because it was designed for people navigating from Europe at the time. It can also be pointed out that because Europe was important on Mercator maps some maps made Africa and South America appear much smaller than they really were, some left out Antarctica because there was no room and some show the equator two-thirds down the map rather than in the middle of the world. (See Oxfam's, Mapping Our World; An Innovative Approach to Mapwork for ages 9-13, revised edition 2000)


  • Children could be asked to make a map timeline contrasting very early ancient maps with later maps writing in some details on the timeline about maps B.C. and A.D.
  • Children could be asked to use clay, cloth or timber to try to make a map. Discuss any of the difficulties which they encounter by using such materials.
  • Make a story board: They could be asked to write some information on Mercator.

Children will learn that maps became more accurate in the 18th , 19th and 20th centuries. Further specific information is contained in the section Map Developments in Ireland.

Children learn about the beginnings of aerial photography and modern developments such as using satellites to make maps.

Section 3: Types of Maps

Here children learn about physical maps and political maps. For further examples of these maps see also Geography, 5th and 6th, Maps and Map reading and the teacher notes which accompany that geography unit.

Physical maps: Children will find out that in the past physical maps were very important to show travellers or armies what the landscape was like. An example of a physical map of Laois in 1563 points out that it was named Queen's County at the time. By zooming in and using the map viewer children can see how forests, roadways, bogs and high ground were depicted.

Integration and linkage: This map could be linked to a study of the early Tudor Plantations. Children can also see an example of a map of Ireland from 1837. On it they can see roads, canal and rivers. Children also see an example of a political map showing land boundaries in 1655 in Queen's County. This is an example of a Down Survey map which were drawn up by Sir William Petty (1623-1687).

Additional information for teachers: The teacher can explain that much of the land of Ireland was mapped in the 1650s after the Crowellian Wars in Ireland at a time when large amounts of land was taken from the native Irish population. These 17th century maps showed where land was to be forfeited and taken by the crown due the punishment given to Irish landowners who had rebelled against the Commonwealth or who were seen to be disloyal. The survey of baronies showing lands to be confiscated or 'non-loyal lands' was known as the Down Survey and they were drawn up by William Petty, who himself was rewarded with large tracts of land in County Kerry. The maps which resulted from the survey were known as the Down Survey maps because they wrote down information about land boundaries, acreage of land, type of land and occupiers of land to be confiscated by the crown and given as payment to soldiers and others loyal to England. These maps showed old placenames as well as houses of note and landscape features and so they are important pieces of evidence about Ireland at the time.

Activity: Children can examine here one such Down Survey parish map of 1655 and see what is depicted on it. Children should notice the numbering system of different field areas and boundaries on this map. They can be asked to think about whether this made it easier to give land away to different soldiers.