At a Glance
Watch 4th-grade students carefully analyze a 1612 map of Virginia drawn by Captain John Smith and compare it to a 21st-century map to discover what was important to Smith and to the Virginia Company. View John Smith Map: Classroom Practice video.
Using Maps as Primary Sources
- What is Important to John Smith?
- What Do You See?
- Present and Past Perspectives
- Arriving at Conclusions
- What is Important to John Smith?
- What Do You See?
- Present and Past Perspectives
- Arriving at Conclusions
Stacy Hoeflich: I want you to consider an important question, actually a question that has more than one part. The question is: What is important to John Smith?
Stacy Hoeflich: I spend September doing regions and geography, once we get through all that, we start in with the charters and the exploration and why would anybody want to get on a ship to almost sure death?
Stacy Hoeflich: I also want to put in some other words here. I want to put in some other words for the word "important." What's the first word under "important?" Grace?
Stacy Hoeflich: Valuable! Do you know what valuable means? Who remembers what valuable means or who can tell me from what we talked about in math? Value, valuable. Sean?
Sean: If something is precious to somebody.
Stacy Hoeflich: Okay, something that is precious. Anyone else? Zack, do you have your hand up?
Zack: No, I was going to say something that umm…
Stacy Hoeflich: What were you going to say?
Zack: Something that is, something that is important to you.
Stacy Hoeflich: That is important, but is important in a way that maybe we’re talking about precious, something like money, something that has worth, okay? And "necessary." It's very different to say something is valuable than it is to say that something is necessary. Sean.
Sean: Something that is important to someone.
Stacy Hoeflich: Important in what way? Alicia?
Alicia: Something that's…needed?
Stacy Hoeflich: Needed! It's different to say something that you need than something that has value. Okay? Those are different things. You need what? What do you, fourth graders, what do you need? [Calls on student]
Student: You need shelter.
Stacy Hoeflich: You need shelter, a place to live. Omar?
Stacy Hoeflich: You need food. [Calls on student]
Stacy Hoeflich: You need water. Okay. What is valuable to you? What is valuable to you? Hank.
Hank: A pet or some toys.
Stacy Hoeflich: Toy, a pet. Kai.
Kai: A Game Boy.
Stacy Hoeflich: A Game Boy. Michelle.
Michelle: A picture of your family.
Stacy Hoeflich: A picture of your family. Are we seeing clearly you don’t need a Game Boy, you don't need a pet, but they are valuable to you? Do we understand the difference? Okay, [under] John Smith, I'd also like to put the word "colonists" and "Virginia Company." You don't know it yet, but the Virginia Company is the group of men in England, who paid all of the money to send John Smith and the colonists to Virginia.
Student: The settlers to Virginia?
Stacy Hoeflich: The settlers to Virginia. The Virginia Company were not settlers, were not colonists, they were men who stayed across the ocean in England. The colonists and John Smith are the ones who sailed across the, what ocean did they sail across?
Stacy Hoeflich: Atlantic Ocean and came to Virginia. So your question, which has more than one part to it, is "What is important to John Smith"?
Stacy Hoeflich: The things that I want them to see are really basic: I want them to notice all the Indian names and the detail in the waterways. How does that apply to what John Smith is thinking and feeling? How does that apply to what the Virginia Company is thinking and feeling? How does that apply to what the Indians might be thinking and feeling? It's really simple, that I want them to notice those two things. We have done research already on the different Indian language groups and tribes. Monacan is a Sioux-speaking group they've already heard about, they know Powhatan. So finding names that you recognize, finding names that you don't recognize, looking at the different water, looking at the different names. What is that "p" right there? And you take a really close look at it.
Stacy Hoeflich: What is this up here? This area up here. [Points at area on map]
Students: [Read item on map out loud]
Stacy Hoeflich: "Significant/signification of these marks." Oh, so this is a map key.
Stacy Hoeflich: It's telling you what these marks mean.
Stacy Hoeflich: So my question is, what is this right here?
Student 1: Identifies parts.
Stacy Hoeflich: What does the key tell you that it is?
Student 1: [Unintellible]
Stacy Hoeflich: That's a funny way of spelling 'house,' king's house. And what is this little dot?
Students: Ordinary house.
Student 1: Or…
Stacy Hoeflich: Ordinary. Ordinary houses.
Student 1: Ordinary houses. We found some of the ordinary houses.
Stacy Hoeflich: What else did you find on here?
Student 1: We found some of the king's houses.
Stacy Hoeflich: Where?
Student 1: Like right there. [Points at map]
Stacy Hoeflich: Do you think there are kings that live in those houses?
Students: No, no, not as much.
Stacy Hoeflich: Why not?
Student 2: I think they're important people.
Stacy Hoeflich: How come they're called king's houses?
Student 2: Because they might play a big part in the Occoquan.
Stacy Hoeflich: Definitely. Who do you think might live there if it's not a king?
Student 1: People that are rich, maybe?
Stacy Hoeflich: Like who? Who else is there?
Student 2: Maybe the king's brother?
Stacy Hoeflich: Ahh, Powhatan had a brother, a very, very important brother, Opchanacanough. Yes he did. So maybe Powhatan's brother lives in one of those houses. What else do you see on the map?
Students: We saw these crosses.
Student 1: It's hard to read it.
Stacy Hoeflich: I know. Weird print. What…bring it closer to me. What…discovered, what beyond is by relation…I'm not sure what that is. We'll have to look that up. I don't know what that is; we'll have to look that up. What else do you see?
Student 1: We see a lot of trees and some mountains.
Stacy Hoeflich: A lot of trees, John Smith took the time to draw…write all the trees.
Student 2: We kinda noticed that these were broken words, so the "Chesapeake Bay."
Stacy Hoeflich: Chesapeake Bay, very big in the middle. Good! Keep looking. Look at the words.
Stacy Hoeflich: The conversation I have with my students is a running commentary. They understand grades, so we "grade" the colony. We talk about how they got the money. They're starting out pretty strong, they're very creative in the way they finance the settlement. They get somebody like John Smith; they get people to volunteer. So they start out at a pretty good "A." They also have the really bad luck of arriving at one of the worst droughts—heat waves—in the history of the United States. They didn't successfully plant crops when they arrived in May; they ran out of food very quickly, they had this class struggle between the 'noble' but not rich gentlemen and the more working class.
Stacy Hoeflich: This map comes with our Virginia textbook series. I ask them to look at both. They have noticed the Chesapeake Bay on the John Smith map. The Chesapeake Bay is very clear here on this map, although, they can easily notice that there is a difference in orientation. The desk map orients more traditionally—north is up. On this one [the John Smith map] "up" would be west and north would be to the right. They notice the "Chesapeakes"; they talk about the water and they're able to notice all the tributaries that go off of the Chesapeake.
Stacy Hoeflich: The words are the Powhatan. Now these little squiggles, what did you say these little squiggles are?
Student 1: Rivers?
Stacy Hoeflich: Yeah, rivers. But he didn't just do the James River. Here's the James River. Here's the York River. [Compares both maps] He did a lot more than that, didn't he? Here are these little ones right here which don't even have any names. Why would he do that? Why would he put all of these little squiggles on here?
Student 2: To show that they were important?
Stacy Hoeflich: That's the question, why did he think they were important?
Student 2: Because they were part of Virginia.
Stacy Hoeflich: True. Are they part of Virginia today still probably?
Stacy Hoeflich: They are. They're still there, right? So how come we show them here [points to modern Virginia map] but we do show them here [points to John Smith map]? John Smith thought they were important, right? Why? Why did he think they were important and your textbook company doesn't think they're important?
Student 2: Because they don't talk about it now, and they used to talk about it there and then.
Stacy Hoeflich: Why? Why did they used to talk about rivers all the time?
Student 2: Because they never saw it and then when they did [see] it they thought it was important.
Stacy Hoeflich: Maybe. They did have some rivers in England though. Why would the colonists be so interested in rivers? We’re not; we're not interested in rivers.
Student 2: Because they might have been fresh water.
Stacy Hoeflich: Water, fresh water is a good guess. Lets turn this over [the textbook map] there could be another possibility. Do you see all these other squiggly lines that we have on this map today?
Stacy Hoeflich: What are all these other squiggly lines that we have?
Student 2: Roads.
Stacy Hoeflich: Roads. Does he have any of those same squiggly lines that we have?
Stacy Hoeflich: So, we have squiggly lines that are important to us that he doesn't have. And he has squiggly lines that are important to him that we don't have.
Student 2: Because they didn't have roads back then and these squiggly lines are for roads.
Stacy Hoeflich: And what did they have?
Student 2: They had rivers.
Stacy Hoeflich: So put it together. He put all that detail on his map. Why would he put all that detail about rivers on his map? That's your question. I want you guys to talk about it. I'm going to ask you that when we come back into the circle, okay? It's a really good point think about it. Why did he put all those rivers on the map and the hint is look at what we have.
Stacy Hoeflich: And they notice that there are interesting pictures of Indians, they notice that there are a whole lot of different Indian names. Powhatan seems to hold a place of honor, the letters are bigger and there's some pictures of Powhatan. They notice all of the other names, and that they are not names which they can easily pronounce, which we then figure out are not European names. They are able to—with a little bit of help—find Jamestown on the map. It's interesting to note that this map in oriented differently. North on this map is to the right so it's turned sideways and you can see the Chesapeake Bay is front and center in this map and we talk about why that happened.
Stacy Hoeflich: When I bring them back together and say, "Tell me what you saw," I'm not asking them to tell me what's important to John Smith. I'm asking them to tell me what they see. If you write it all on the board, "What do you see?"—Indians and water. What's important to John Smith?—Indians and water. If they don't see it, say look at what's written on the board. Does anybody see a pattern? How do we put these things into groups? Most of what they're going to write down are things you can connect to either Indians or water.
Stacy Hoeflich: Why are these things important?
Student: Because maybe the Chesapeake Bay has water and they need water. And maybe they traded with the Powhatans for food. So he thought that the Powhatans were important because they helped.
Stacy Hoeflich: He thinks the Powhatans are important because of trading for food. That's one possible good answer to our question. He thinks the Chesapeake Bay is important because it's water. Let's explore that a little bit more.
Student: He also thought it was important because he would probably cross from Jamestown all the way to the Powhatan land so that he could trade with them.
Stacy Hoeflich: What does a map usually do for us? Why do we make maps? What does a map do?
Student: It guides us.
Stacy Hoeflich: It guides us, good word! So, we're talking about trading, we're talking about maps that guide us, why did he put all those little names on this map? Why did he put all those names on this map? Grace?
Grace: To tell you where the person is?
Stacy Hoeflich: To tell you where those people are so that you could trade with them maybe. Would there be another reason why he would want to know where all these people are? Is there any other reason why he wants to know where all these people are? Zack.
Zack: He…so they could…so they could dodge like tribes that are actually kind of bad and they could go through tribes that will help them.
Stacy Hoeflich: So he might want to avoid—I like how you used the word "dodge"—he might want to avoid certain tribes that might want to be violent or hurt them. So if they're all on here he can know: I should go this way, and not this way. Because if I go this way I might run in to those bad guys. It's important to have all…as much information as he can [so he can] get help when he needs it and he can not get hurt.
Sarah: On the map, how come he drew all these trees and we don't have them here [on the textbook map]?
Stacy Hoeflich: Good question, everybody hear Sarah's question? On the map why would he have drawn all of those trees and we don't have that on here?
Kumar: Because maybe they made cities?
Stacy Hoeflich: Maybe today we don't have all those trees, maybe today we have cities. Sean.
Sean: Maybe it was because types of view. John Smith maybe, a little bit closer to see the trees and the rivers. On the map we have today we see a very far view or you just see Virginia but you don’t…not trees or anything.
Stacy Hoeflich: Okay, perspective.
Stacy Hoeflich: I would get them to think about perspective: Why are the Indians there, why are the Indians so prevalent? They can kill us, and they can give us food. They know those two things. Why does the Virginia Company care about those things? I'm a big fan of writing things from a different perspective. You can have them pretend to be a colonist who's writing a letter back home to his wife who's describing the new house or home that he's going to set up. "Well, I'm going to set up some place along the river because that way it will be easier to get back and easier to send things."
This website shows a 4th-grade teacher in northern Virginia teaching a lesson focused on a map drawn by John Smith that was published in 1612. Source Analysis, a feature created for the Loudoun County (Virginia) (TAH) website, has three sections focused on this primary source: scholar analysis, teacher analysis, and classroom practice. The latter two sections show a standards-based lesson that asks students to answer the question: What is important to John Smith? The teacher carefully plans activities so students look closely at the map and consider how this primary source helps them answer the central question. The site provides examples of two promising practices:
- Engaging young students in close, careful observation and reading of a primary source document (using student pairs and a comparative document); and
- Using students' observations to inform and guide analysis and connect the source to larger questions and topics in the curriculum.
In the Classroom Practice section, we see the lesson in action. The teacher introduces the lesson question and then takes time to ensure that students understand the question by introducing synonyms for "important" and reviewing word meanings. She passes out the maps to assigned student pairs and asks them, "What do you see?" Students have time to look carefully at the map and notice words (e.g., "Jamestown" and "Powhatan"), the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, living structures, trees, how particular words vary in size and spacing, and so on. The teacher further facilitates the students' observation by juxtaposing the 1612 map with a contemporary textbook map of the same region. This juxtaposition helps students see the choices John Smith made in drawing this map that they might have missed without the comparative source. The teacher then uses what students notice about these maps to help them think about what the details and differences mean. Students start to identify what was important to John Smith and subsequently to the Virginia Company, given the evidence in front of them. Throughout this instruction, the teacher uses feedback, a logical sequencing of activities, and clear and accessible questions to ensure access to the learning activities for all of her students.
This teacher shows how carefully structured lessons that use primary sources can engage students in the process of thinking like historians. Students slow down and carefully read and look at the map, noticing things that they might otherwise have missed. They then consider what the contents of the map mean and what the map tells us about John Smith and the Virginia Company's worldview. The 1612 map becomes a window into the past that only reveals its slice of the landscape with close reading. Also on this site is a Teacher Analysis section in which the teacher explains some of what preceded this lesson and her instructional choices—a useful complement to the classroom videos. Each of these sections presents information in a set of videos that are clearly titled and visually interesting.