The Lost Piece of the History Puzzle
Pompeii… Gaul… These are places of historical significance, but you
will no find them on any globes or current maps around your home.
Why? It is because they no longer exist. Does this mean, then, that
we do not have to bother with knowing their locations?
To the contrary.
The “where” of history is just as critical to the story as the “who”
and “when”. To close our eyes to geography while studying history is
very similar 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. History is like a puzzle –
the way that it all fits and connects together. People, events,
artifacts and literature are all pieces in that puzzle. And so are
Yet geography is a
subject that many parents feel inadequate to teach. We often do not
remember much from our own geography lessons and a sincere question
from a curious, up-turned face, such as “Where is Gaul?” can feel
quite intimidating. It can be challenging enough to find Green Bay on
a map, much less Gaul which no longer exists.
Are you like me
when reading a fascinating book? You keep your thumb on the map page
of the book so that you can continue to refer back to it as the story
unfolds. For me, it does not matter if it is Middle Earth or Mitford;
I like to see where the characters are going. The story seems to come
more alive for me when I can visualize the movements of the characters
and the places that they frequent and travel.
It is the same
with history. The story simply makes more sense when you know the
locations and movements of the main characters. Maps and the study of
geography alongside history will actually give you clues as to why
events happened as they did. It is like the piece of the puzzle that
helps the whole picture to make sense.
Have you ever wondered why Hannibal and
his elephants were able to sneak up and surprise the Romans so
And why was Greece, such a small country, able to
defend themselves against the repeated attacks of the mighty Persians?
Have you ever wondered about Jonah? He is told by God
to go and preach in Nineveh, so why does he set sail for Tarsus
You have heard that Alexander the Great conquered the
whole known world. Exactly how large was this territory?
These are just a
few mysteries from the ancient world, but there are mysteries like
this throughout history and they can only be solved through studying
geography. Here are a few more from medieval times:
Why did the Byzantines consider themselves
Roman and yet speak Greek instead of Latin?
Why was printing with movable type invented in the
Rhineland and what does this have to do with the fall of
Constantinople in that same year?
Have I peaked your
curiosity a little? The joy of homeschooling is in finding these
answers for yourself, but I will go over a couple of these with you in
a little bit.
First, here are
some statistics from a survey done by National Geographic:
10 young Americans could not locate his country on a blank map of the
13% of young Americans could find Iraq on a map of the Middle
majority of the young people surveyed knew that the Taliban and
Al-Qaeda were based in Afghanistan, but only 17% could find that
country on a world map.
So 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, even enjoyable. One key to
remember, however, is that it is perfectly acceptable to learn
geography alongside your students. You do not have to have all the
information or answers ready in advance. Investigating the answers
together can be a rewarding and bonding experience.
Before reading an 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 an historical atlas. Other
helpful tools include outline maps (preferably
historically based) and a timeline (any
format will do – wall, book or computer software). You may be
wondering why a timeline is recommended for incorporating geography
into history when this tool focuses more on the “when” aspect of
history? A timeline will allow your student to see what was happening
in other parts of the world at the same time as the event that he is
Okay, now you are ready with your supplies, so how do you
do it? Let us take for our example the Punic Wars between Rome and
Carthage. After reading about this event in your history book, you
will want to go to your wall map to see where in the world this war
took place. Next you go to the globe to get a better perspective,
because a globe is not distorted like a flat map. As your student
touches the upper boundary of Italy, he notices something – raised
mountains. You tell him that those are the Alps – the highest
mountain range in Europe. He is beginning to understand why that wall
of mountains provided the Romans with a false sense of security on
their northern border. Really, why would the Carthaginians travel all
this way over land, when they are masters of the sea? As he begins to
color his blackline map, he can understand further still why all Roman
eyes were to the south and the sea – the most direct attack route from
Carthage. Suddenly, he begins to understand the brilliantly executed
plan of Hannibal who led his elephant army right into the middle of
Italy unchallenged. The geography piece of the puzzle has been
Here is another example. You probably know the story of
Jonah. Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh to preach repentance and
the forgiveness of sins. Instead, he goes on a deep sea adventure.
Why? First of all, Nineveh is part of the Assyrian Kingdom which has
often attacked Israel’s borders. Captured enemies of Assyria were
often flayed alive; they liked to see their adversaries suffer. It is
naturally understandable why Jonah would fear going to Nineveh, but we
cannot ignore the fact that God commanded Him to do so. But as you
know, Jonah refuses. In fact, stubborn and scared, he boards a ship
instead that is sailing for Tarsus. And where in the world is
Tarsus? It was located on the southwestern tip of Spain. This was
considered the end of the world at that time. In other words, he
intended to travel as far as possible in the opposite direction.
Surely, God would never find him there. Well, of course, He does and
gently persuades Jonah to reconsider. He does and eventually goes to
Nineveh, preaches forgiveness and the Ninevites repent of their wicked
ways. Another geography puzzle piece placed.
If you have a student in 4th or 5th
grade, you will want to begin to use a timeline. Putting together a
timeline will help your child to make connections between seemingly
unrelated events. (I would suggest that you use a blank timeline that
your child completes himself. A pre-printed timeline can be
fascinating to adults, but it will not help your student make the
connections.) Is there a reason why the American Revolution and the
French Revolution are only a few years apart? Could there be a
connection? You bet there is!
Most home-educating parents agree that a timeline is a good
idea, but many are unsure where to start. There are a lot of good
products on the market, some of which we carry. There are wall
timelines, book timelines and timeline software. If you would like to
create your own timeline, click here for an
article on how to build one yourself. If you would prefer to purchase
one pre-made, click here for more
The use of maps and timelines completes the history
picture. It fits the final pieces into the puzzle, giving a clearer
overall perspective of the story. Do not allow insecurity to keep you
from teaching geography alongside history. Without it, the scene
developed in your students’ imaginations may be dull and flat. With
it, their imaginations may “pop” with vibrancy, and their fascination
with the subjects of history and geography may soar to a new level.
Enjoy your preparation for your new
Terri Johnson is the creator of Knowledge Quest maps and timelines.
Her mission for the company is to help make the teaching and learning
of history and geography enjoyable for both teacher and students. She
has created and published over 15 map and timeline products. Her
Blackline Maps of World History have been widely recommended in
the education community and published in The Story of the World
history series by Susan Wise Bauer. Terri and Knowledge Quest
recently won the “Excellence in Education” award granted by The Old
Schoolhouse magazine for best geography company of 2003 and 2004.
Terri resides in Gresham, Oregon with her husband Todd and their four
children whom she teaches at home.
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