Map Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean


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Lesson 4.2: Mapping Imperial Contexts


Lesson 4.2: Mapping Imperial Contexts


Topic 2: Expansion, Exploration and Exploitation: Population Movements in the Age of Empires


Topic Overview

The purpose of this topic is to engage students in analysis of the ways in which individuals and groups experienced the expansion and competition of empires in this period, and to examine how those individual experiences can shed light on the larger processes as well.

The student will strengthen his/her geographical competencies by analyzing and creating maps of this era, including plotting the travels and experiences of a set of individual subjects of Mediterranean states on an online map (either Google Maps or Google Earth). Students will conduct historical and geographic research and integrate current geospatial technology.

Students will be able to identify and analyze significant events and places relevant to each individual, and explain using images and multimedia how these individual lives reflect the larger themes of imperial exploration, expansion and exploitation.

Students will be able to connect the narrative of expansion to the New World with the ongoing story of imperial competition in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean.

Lesson Overview

In order to ground the study of the early modern Mediterranean, students need to become familiar with the various players on the scene. To that end, students will identify the major imperial players of the Age of Exploration, and track their exploration and expansion on a series of maps. Students will also investigate the main impetus for expansion and economic competition: trade in a variety of important commodities. Students will map the locations of production of major spices (cinnamon, nutmeg/mace, cloves, pepper), gold and silver, and other major commodities. Students will use geographical analysis of these maps to examine motivations for exploration and expansion along particular routes, particularly competition for control over trade routes to and in the Indian Ocean, European demand for gold/silver to pay for luxury goods, and new products or sources of old products that Europeans discovered or created in the New World.


Barbara Petzen


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


One 45-50 minute class period


• The student will be able to identify major political entities in the early modern Mediterranean and trace their geographical extent on a map.

• Students will be able to identify important commodities in Mediterranean trade, their sources, and the trade routes along which they could be traded.

• Students will be able to analyze the motivations for exploration of new geographical areas and exploitation of natural resources in the early modern period.


• Student Handout 4.2.1: Mapping Imperial Contexts of Trade

• Large world map for reference (wall map or projected, optional)

• Internet access

Lesson Plan Text

1. Ask students who the major players in the Mediterranean in the early modern period were. Have a student record answers on the board. Ask students to free associate a few terms or ideas related to each state.

2. Distribute copies of Student Handout 4.2.1: Mapping Imperial Contexts of Trade. Ask students to examine the maps of the various major political entities active in this period. Note that all the states were not at the peak of their political power and range at the same time.

3. Have students answer the questions on the handout in relation to the maps given:

a. What cities (in what states) were most important? Why?

b. Which trading goods were most important? Where did they originate? Who controlled the trade in these goods?

c. How do the maps reflect changes in territory or influence of these states over time?

d. Which states extended their rule beyond the Mediterranean, where and how?

4. If a large world map is available, have students point out all the actors identified so far, and where they are based.

5. Divide students into pairs and have each pair investigate one of the trade goods on the list given. On the electronic version of the document, each commodity is linked to a site that gives a short précis on that good’s importance in early modern trade. You may also wish to have students research the trade goods independently. Reiterate that they are looking for the history of trade in that commodity in the early modern period.

6. Bring the class back together and have each pair introduce their spice/good in a brief “elevator pitch”—no more than one minute on why their trade good is so important in early modern history.

7. After all the presentations, have students answer the following questions:

a. Which trade goods were most important?

b. From where did they originate?

c. Who controlled the trade in these goods? How?

8. Extension: Have groups of students design a trading game using a world map as the board, tokens with colored ships and caravans as game pieces, and a selection of the trade goods as the prizes to be won or controlled. Students should devise a way for the various political entities to compete, giving some an edge through geography (shorter distances) or technology (some might have faster ships or more experienced caravans) or policy (such as Dutch ruthlessness in trying to monopolize the spice trade in Southeast Asia). Students might incorporate penalties for a variety of mishaps, including pirates or bandits, missing the monsoon winds, storms, or falling out of favor with their patron. Have students play one another’s games and rate them on a rubric incorporating historical accuracy, entertainment, visual appeal, playability and creativity.



Barbara Petzen, “Lesson 4.2: Mapping Imperial Contexts,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,

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