Thursday, July 12, 2012

The value of maps

I recently attended MCHE’s summer course for educators entitled 1942 and the Final Solution. This course helped me put the history of the Final Solution into a clear, concise context through the use of maps, geographical information, primary source documents, and photographs.

As an English teacher, I felt comfortable using literature of the Holocaust with my eighth-grade students. My participation in the teaching cadre and classes/workshops/exhibits offered by MCHE helped me learn historical concepts that I could share with my students as well. This recent class, though, really showed me the importance of geography in the understanding of both the literature and the history.

Although I did share maps with my students, I certainly didn’t teach the geography of the Holocaust in a meaningful and effective way. While I did require that my students “learn” the map of WWII Europe, I didn’t use that information with each historical activity we completed to supplement our literary studies. I would encourage those of you who teach English to include the geography of the  Holocaust as an important area of study for your students no matter the length of your unit. Take the time to include maps and a general overview of the country/culture(s) at that particular time.

Holocaust – Maps and Photographs (a visual narrative by Martin Gilbert) is a compact, yet useful source of interesting, content-laden maps. The following map titles are just a few of those included: Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life in Europe, The Persecution of the Jews of Germany in the First Five Years of Nazi Rule 1933-1938, The Fate of the Gypsies Under Nazi Rule, The Desperate Search for a Country of Refuge. The author’s website, Sir Martin Gilbert Online, is an interesting source of geographical information as well. Another engaging online source which consists of interactive maps is found at USHMM.

In literature the setting is always a key piece of discussion. In the study of Holocaust literature, learning about the geography of that setting can truly enhance student and teacher understanding of the people and the events.

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