Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia



How can we use historical maps to strengthen our mental maps of the modern world?

Lesson Images

Mercator map

Mercator, Gerhard, (1512–1594). Typus Orbis Terrarum: Domini est Terra & Plenitudo Ejus, Orbis Uerrarum, & Universi Qui Habitant in Eo. Psalmo 24. Amsterdam, 1607. G3200 1607 .M4 Voorhees Collection. Library of Virginia. (High Res)

Standards Of Learning

1.4, 1.5, 2.4, 2.5, 3.5, 3.6, K.4, USI.1, USI.2, VS.1, VUS.1, WG.1, WHI.1, WHII.1

Historical Information:

This Lesson Plan was created by Penny Anderson, a teacher at Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg and one of the Library of Virginia's 2010 Brown Research Teacher Fellows.

Maps, graphs, and pictures are used to gather and display information in a spatial or geographic format. People create maps with pictures, lines, symbols, and cardinal directions to determine the location of objects and places. However, people don't look at a map to find the room down the hall or the house up the street. They use their mental maps. A person's visual image or perception of the world is called a mental (cognitive) map. Basically, a mental map is someone's “mind's eye” map of their known relative location. These mental maps can be imaginary diagrams people use to navigate through physical space (buildings, neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries), or they can be used to represent one's knowledge of the location of land masses on the surface of the earth. They can also serve as indicators of how well people know the spatial characteristics of certain places. Our daily routine of patterns, routes, and spatial habits are created from our mental maps based on our objective knowledge and our daily perceptions. We know how to get around our home, our neighborhood, our school, or our town because of our mental maps. Anyone can develop a mental map through personal experiences, exploring places, and thinking about information in a spatial pattern.

Vocabulary Words:

• absolute location— the actual location of a point on the earth's surface, usually in terms of latitude and longitude coordinates or a physical address of a place

• cardinal directions— the directions of north, east, south, and west

• compass rose— a symbol that shows direction (north, east, south, and west) on a map

• cartographer— someone who makes maps

• equator— an imaginary line around the middle of the earth that divides it into the Northern and Southern hemispheres

• hemisphere— half of a sphere (globe); created by the equator or the prime meridian

• map— a drawing that shows what places look like from above and where they are located

• map legend— a list of shapes and symbols used on a map and an explanation of what each one represents

• map perspective— the visual information of the cartographer's point of view

• map scale— map tool used to measure distance between locations

• mental map— also called a cognitive map; a person's personal point-of-view perception of their own space, community, region, and world

• orientation— direction in relation to a point on the compass

• prime meridian— an imaginary line around the middle of the earth that divides it into the Eastern and Western hemispheres

• region— a place that has common characteristics that are different from the characteristics of the surrounding areas

• relative location— a concept described by using terms that show connections between two places, such as next to, near, or bordering.

• spatial information— information about items that take up space/have mass on the surface of the earth

• symbol— a picture or thing that represents something else

Lesson Activities


• Draw a map of the world from memory showing as many major land and water features as you can. Add a title, a compass rose, and a key for any symbols you use to represent information.

• Draw a map of a familiar area (your school, neighborhood, or town). Add a map title, compass rose, and three symbols representing three features on your map. You must make a key to explain your symbols.

• Use a mental map (your memory of an area) to draw a diagram of the inside of your favorite store. On which aisles do you like to shop? Is the store separated into sections? If so, label them on your diagram. Where is the checkout? Where are the doors? Where is the restroom? Where are the emergency exits?

• Imagine you are an early European explorer. In the style of Mercator, draw a map of the whole New World or a specific region on poster board. Include each of the following with labels:

♦ ten physical features

♦ areas “unknown”

♦ trails and/or river transportation routes

♦ human settlements

♦ pictures or a collage representing any geographic information

♦ a title, a compass rose, and a key/legend

♦ Don't forget to color/antique your map!


• Project Mercator's map on a screen. (Refer to a modern map image if needed. A modern map can be found here: "The World." Xpeditions Atlas: Maps Made for Printing and Copying, National Geographic Society,

♦ Allow time for students to comment on the map. Define map perspective. Is Mercator's map “wrong”? What appears out of place? Discuss. (Remember that perspective is to look at a map with the cartographer's point of view.)

♦ Define orientation. Point out the latitude and longitude lines. Practice using coordinates. (Partner up with a geometry lesson: latitude = x-axis, longitude = y-axis)

♦ Have students identify the map title, compass rose, map legend, any geographic features or symbols, and any place-names.

♦ Differentiate between the land features and the water features. Locate the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Southern Ocean.

♦ Locate North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica on maps and globes.

♦ Find the approximate locations of: China, Japan, India, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Mali, Ghana, Zimbabwe, England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Spain, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Scandinavia

♦ Find the approximate locations of the: Mississippi River, Rio Grande, Hudson Bay, Appalachians, Himalayas, Rocky Mountains, Danube River, Great Lakes, Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Yellow River, Yangtze River, Nile River, Indus River

• Compare and contrast these locations on the modern world map.

♦ What is similar within the two map images? What is different? Discuss. Create a Venn Diagram of the two map images.

Lesson Handouts

Blank Venn Diagram PDF Handout (94 KB)

Typus Orbis Terrarum. Panels to print PDF Handout (1 MB)

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