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Compare-Contrast-Connect: Maps Through Time

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts


For centuries explorers and traders drew maps of the world. These maps show what was known about the planet earth at that time. Today, there are photographs from satellites to supplement and correct maps drawn from data collected at the earth's surface. Cartographers (mapmakers) today can use this information to make very detailed and accurate maps of the earth.



SF Fig. 1.3. (A) Chart of the Sandwich Islands, author unknown, published in the official account of Captain James Cook’s third voyage, 1785.


SF Fig. 1.3. (B) Carte Des Îles Sandwich, Bernizet, 1786, Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup Comte de La Pérouse

Image courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection


SF Fig. 1.3. (E) Modern map of Hawai‘i, a portion of “The National Atlas of the United States of America. General Reference”, compiled by the US Geological Survey 2001, printed 2002

Image courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Comparing historical maps can show how the depiction and understanding of the world has changed over time. Maps of the Hawaiian Islands show that as scientific exploration progresses, and instrumentation and map-making techniques get more sophisticated, maps become more accurate (SF Fig. 1.3).


Question Set
  1. Why do you think the shape and positioning of the Hawaiian Islands on early maps changes over time? How do the islands look similar in comparison to maps we use today? How do they differ?
  2. In map A, the first western map of the Hawaiian Islands, why do you think there is such a detailed rendition of Kealakekua Bay (labeled as Karakakooa Bay on the map)? What do the lines around the islands represent? (Hint: Research Captain James Cook)
  3. Why are the Hawaiian Islands referred to as the Sandwich Islands on early maps?
  4. Do you think maps are still becoming more accurate? Why or why not? 
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.