Map Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean


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Lesson 4.3: Comparison of Historical Maps


Lesson 4.3: Comparison of Historical Maps


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


Students will compare several historical maps of the period, including:

• Carta Catalana, 1452

• Mürsiyeli İbrahim Efendi’s 1461 map of the Mediterranean • Henricus Martellus Germanus’ 1490 world map

• Piri Reis’ 1513 world map fragment

• Piri Reis’ 1521 Kitab al-Bahriye (Mediterranean, Marseilles and Toulon, and Venice)

• The 1502 Cantino Planisphere

• the 1507 Waldseemuller map

• Sebastian Munster’s 1570 map of Europe as a Queen

Groups of students will research who made each map and for what purposes, the technology and knowledge upon which the map was based, and the elements of geography represented on each map. Students will analyze why these features were seen by the mapmaker as most important to show.


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 recognize geographical features of maps.

• The student will be able to draw upon data in historical maps as primary sources of history.

• The student will be able to interrogate historical data.

• The student will be able to contextualize historical documents and situate them in time and place.

• The student will be able to analyze primary source documents and identify the point of view, goals, main arguments, and evidence used of the writers.

Lesson Plan Text

1. Open the discussion by asking students what maps do—what purposes might they serve? Encourage students to think beyond “getting from one place to another.” For example, maps might serve to claim territory, to identify geographical dangers or curiosities, to exalt one place or discredit another, to promote a political point of view, to show natural resources that could be exploited, as an artistic endeavor, etc.

2. Ask students to research and define the following terms: portolan, planisphere, Ptolemaic map (or Ptolemy’s Geography.)

3. Distribute Student Handout 4.3.1: Comparison of Historical Maps (you may use one set per group to cut down on color copying). Divide students into groups and ask them to examine the maps. Ask students to identify geographic features on each map. How are different features represented? What is unique about each map? What kinds of features and what areas does each map include and exclude—why might that be?

4. Ask students to try to place the maps in chronological order of creation, and to cite evidence for why they place them in this order. What technology or discoveries are the maps based upon? Can you follow the expansion of geographical knowledge in each map? Ask each group to identify who might have made each map, and the evidence they used to make that determination. What else would they like to know about each map?

5. Finally, distribute a copy of Student Handout 4.3.2 Comparison of Historical Maps with info(with identifying information for each map) to each group and have them examine the larger images of the maps online as well. Have them review their previous answers and discuss what they were able to figure out, and what stumped them, and why. Ask groups to analyze what they think the purpose of each map might be. What features on the map suggest it? Why might the mapmaker have thought those features were most important for his purposes?

6. Assign each group one of the maps or sets of maps. Have them create a poster display around the map, identifying its most important features and historical context from the questions above. They should identify interesting visual information, the historical context and purpose for which it was created, etc. Students may need to do additional research to fill out the context for their map. Display the maps around the classroom for the remainder of the early modern unit.

7. Adaptation: For younger students or those with less historical background, introduce the first three maps in chronological order in large format (projected) with a guided discussion of their visual features and historical context. As you introduce further maps, have students gradually take on more of the discussion of features and development of geographical knowledge.

8. Assessment: Students should be assessed on both their participation in the small group discussions and their work on the final product, which should be assessed on accuracy, completeness of information, creativity and clarity.



Barbara Petzen, “Lesson 4.3: Comparison of Historical Maps,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,

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