A friend just alerted me to the website Worldmapper, which I highly recommend. Their own description says: “Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.” But this simple sentence does not convey the interesting possibilities for visualizing historical information on a global scale. Here are two examples–a map of the world population in 2006 with the countries resized according to their share of that total population and then a second map of those same countries, but using their estimated populations in 1500.
My how the world has changed…and how it hasn’t.
It’s not hard to see the ways that this site can be used in teaching students about change over time–perhaps our most central methodological concern in history education. The Worldmapper team has many such maps and, best of all, each map is available with the dataset as an Excel file, so that students can do more than just look at the pretty pictures.
Too often I think we are guilty of showing them the image, but not the underlying data, and the availability of this data from Worldmapper makes it possible for us to redress this imbalance. I think giving students access to the data is especially important in general survey courses because so many of the students taking these classes intend to major in fields that require a lot of number crunching and so are already familiar with how to work with spreadsheets. And, of course, this site is just one more example of the ways that GIS technologies are transforming the ways we think about and represent the past.
For more on using digital media to visualize information take a gander at a post I wrote here almost a year ago.