The Where of History - Geography
- Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Geography is a subject many parents feel inadequate to teach. The "where" of history is just as critical to the story as the "who" and "when". To close your eyes to geography while studying history is akin to learning math without manipulatives. It can be done, but it leaves holes in the complete picture, very much like putting together a puzzle without all the pieces.
We often don't remember much from our own geography lessons, and a sincere question, such as "where is Calabar?", from a curious, upturned face, can feel quite intimidating. It can be challenging enough to find Chattanooga on a map, much less Calabar. In truth, this place is not even shown on most modern maps you might have around your house.
How does a home-educating parent incorporate geography into a history lesson? With a few simple tools and resources on hand, the task can become quite painless and even enjoyable. One key to remember, however, is that it is perfectly acceptable to learn geography alongside your students. You don't have to have all the information or answers ready in advance. Investigating the answers together can be a rewarding and bonding experience.
Before reading a historical account, whether from an encyclopedia, a biography, or a work of literature, make sure that you have on hand a globe, a wall map, and a historical atlas. Optional, but helpful, items include outline maps (preferably historically based) and a timeline (any format will do – wall, book, or computer software). Why is a timeline recommended for incorporating geography into history when this tool focuses more on the "when" aspect of history? A timeline will allow the student to see what was happening in other parts of the world at the same time as the event he is studying.
Let's take a look at the life and ministry of Mary Slessor, pioneer missionary to Calabar in Western Africa. Mary grew up in Scotland in the time of the Industrial Revolution, and this had a profound effect on Mary's upbringing during the 1850s and 60s. Her father moved the family from Aberdeen to Dundee before landing a job as a laborer in a mill, while her mother took a weaving job in a factory. As a teenager and young adult, Mary worked twelve-hour shifts as a factory-girl. It was during this fourteen-year period that she ministered to young street ruffians and prepared for her journey to the faraway and romantic coast of Western Africa.
This would be a good time to find Scotland on the globe. Where is this small European country? Who is its nearest neighbor? Using your historical atlas, find the areas of heavy industrialization. If you are using an outline map, place a star by the cities in which Mary and her family lived. Label and trace the outline of England and Scotland. Label the island country to the west and the country directly across the channel to the east. Label the bodies of water surrounding Great Britain. Use your globe or atlas for the answers. This is not cheating; it is how we learn. Make this a time of exploration and discovery, rather than a test or drill. If your children are young, don't require much writing; rather, let them color the map that you helped them to label.
Let us return to our story: the Presbyterian mission in Calabar, founded by Jamaican ex-slaves, intrigued Mary Slessor. She left her homeland and traveled to the coast of Nigeria, the very coast raided by slave-traders who bought and sold human beings as chattel for the far-off plantations in the New World. Of course, slavery had been abolished in most parts of the civilized world by this time, but its horrific history still had an enormous impact on the people of that land.
Take some time to look at a map of the whole world. Locate the area of West Africa to which Mary Slessor dedicated thirty-six years of her life. Follow the western coastline down from Morocco until it cuts in to the east and forms the Gulf of Guinea. Find Scotland and Jamaica in relationship to Nigeria. How far did these pioneer missionaries have to travel to reach this dark, exotic jungle and spiritual wasteland?
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