This summer, I am taking a course through North Tier called Telling the World’s Stories Through Google Maps. We’re just getting started on the first week and I’ve already learned a few things I didn’t know about this tool that I use almost every day. I am fortunate to have Tim Stahmer as my instructor.
Part of my motivation for taking this course came from my reading. I was reading Wallace Stegner’s biography of John Wesley Powell, the western explorer known for being the first European to make the passage through the Grand Canyon. Using the maps to explore helped better understand the challenges of navigating the Colorado River. It was fun to look up the various places mentioned in the book, many of which Powell named.
From there, I headed to the 10,000 Islands area of the Gulf Coast of Florida as part of reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, the fictionalized story of Edgar “Bloody” Watson who lived in the islands at the turn of the century. It is a wild country, and the satellite view was most helpful as the Google street view cameras haven’t quite made it to the mangrove swamps yet. Again, maps enriched my understanding of how the setting influenced the story.
Finally..and here was the real lightbulb moment for using maps in the English classroom…I was reading a cozy mystery series set in Leap, Cork County, Ireland. One of the characters was an elderly Irish woman and when I checked out the tiny village in maps, there she was! A woman showed up on one of the photos, pushing her walker down the road. I know it was not the woman from the book, but it occurred to me that exploring the maps would be a wonderful story starter activity.