In my undergraduate history education classes, I did not use digital mapping tools due to my experience of being hopelessly confused by the one that was recommended to me by my professor. The map itself was difficult to manipulate and I felt that it was more trouble than it was worth to incorporate the program into one of my lessons. Unfortunately, I was not exposed to more options until recently. My exploration of ArcGIS Story Maps reopened my understanding of how useful and accessible digital map tools can be in history education to visualize data and to gain more geography knowledge.
In ArcGIS StoryMaps, there are several choices of how to present your narrative. In the provided block palette, the map is the most interactive. Users are able to add points on the map that allow them to add an image and a description. The StoryMaps provide an option to number these points so that viewers can navigate through them in a particular order. A line can be drawn between the points on a map, and it can be titled and given a description as well. This function is ideal for a project that focuses on a physical path in history, such as a migration pattern or a campaign trail. Numbering the data on a map can also follow an event chronologically, as seen with this Battle of Gettysburg map (which was created using the same mapmaker found in ArcGis). It is more difficult to save the drawn line compared to individual points, and the save feature is not automatic. The site does provide a number of examples of how other creators used the maps, as well as a comprehensive tutorial to navigate the offered tools. One of the best features of this digital map tool is how the map legend automatically reflects the map itself without further manipulation. One of the best examples of ArcGIS’ legend capabilities can be seen through Jim Herries’s map of redistricting counties in the Exploring the 2020 U.S. Census Data project.
The map feature of ArcGis Story Maps provides an avenue of project creation for students in the history classroom while also furthering their understanding of geography via map manipulation. Andrew Wiseman’s article When Maps Lie notes the lack of practice people have analyzing maps as a source that can be distorted and manipulated, associating it with how geography has been excluded from school curriculums for decades. Students have more experience with analyzing articles and written sources for bias and misinformation. There is almost an unspoken authority about maps, which can be addressed by teaching students how they support data. Digital maps such as the one found in ArcGIS StoryMaps can also further facilitate student research. By looking at their data on a map, students will find answers to their questions while identifying patterns to research. Within the StoryMap, students can add more blocks of text for their own analysis as well as link other media and primary sources related to their research. ArcGIS’s map function is versatile enough to be incorporated into multiple units and provides a tool of analysis that has been used by historians and geographers. History students benefit from practicing the methods and tools used by professionals in the field.