Integrating Geography into Your History Class



What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word "Geography?" Chances are, it isn't "History." But, geography and history are intimately intertwined.  It's extremely difficult to teach history without touching on geography. Geography helps us understand why civilizations emerged in Mesopotamia, why certain economies developed, why wars were lost, and even why some civilizations flourished while others failed. Students cannot truly understand a period of history without also understanding the geographical context surrounding that time period.  

One way to incorporate geography is to use the 5 Themes of Geography as a lens to view history.
Location:  Every civilization and country has an absolute and relative location. The absolute location of a civilization significantly impacts the history of that civilization. Through the centuries, changes in transportation and technology have changed the relative location of civilizations and countries.

Place: Every civilization and country has physical and human characteristics. These characteristics shaped the developed of the civilizations and countries.

Human and Environmental Interactions: Civilizations and countries depend on, adapt, and modify the environment around them. Examples of this stretch back to the Neolithic Revolution and are prevalent today.

Movement: Throughout the millennia, history was shaped when people, goods, technology, and ideas spread throughout regions and the world.

Regions: Areas with similar characteristics have formed and changed throughout history.


Geographic features of every time period have significant contextual information to offer students. For example, to study the rise of civilizations and empires without identifying why cities like Rome and London emerged where they did, leaves a void in student understanding. 

Have you ever tried to teach World War II without referring to a map? Probably not. But, the key is to go a little deeper. Have students really look at the map. Why did Germany choose to invade France where it did? Why did the Soviet Union want Finland and the Baltic States? What helped Switzerland remain neutral? What geographic reasons did Japan have for expanding their empire? The list of questions goes on and on. 

At this point, I know what you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of extra work. And extra work, we all know, is the number one enemy of any classroom teacher. But, the good news is that there are some really great tools out there to help aid the process. Make technology work for you!
 
1. Start with integrating the use of Google Earth, a program whose benefits to educators appear to be never ending (you'll need to download Chrome to do this). As a beginning point, investigate the use of kmz files. These are files that automate a journey across the globe in Google Earth, with information overlayed. For more information on how to use Google Earth, check here.

2. A fantastically interactive online tool is Scribble Maps, a site that allows students to overlay their own information on maps. 

3. To get political about history, use Gapminder, a site that helps students compare and contrast important statistics by country over time.  

4. History Matter's Making Sense of Maps walks students through how to use and analyze maps.

5. Lastly, I have a growing collection of historical map activities for U.S. and World History.

Embrace geography and broaden your students' understanding of history!

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