Brain Pickings

How We Use Maps and Globes: An Illustrated Guide from 1968

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A charming reminder of how far we’ve come — and what we’ve given up along the way.

Yesterday, we traced the birth of our modern obsession with maps. But in today’s age of cartographic entitlement — the kind that causes an epidemic of panic and outrage at having one kind of Earth-in-your-pocket over another — it’s hard to believe we once had to be taught how to use maps and why they mattered. That’s precisely what the delightful vintage grade school primer How We Use Maps and Globes (public library) does. Originally published in 1968 as part of the same Social Studies Program series that gave us How People Live in the Suburbs, the slim 48-page book explores the basics of distance, scale, direction, and orientation through vibrant illustrations, black-and-white photographs, and simple words.

One of the most beautiful illustrations in the book is this map of bird migration patterns:

But besides the educational value and the sheer vintage gorgeousness of the artwork, these illustrations also remind us of what we’ve lost along with everything we’ve gained in the past half-century of technological progress — the pride in telling direction just by your shadow in the sun, the awe of gazing at the night sky and knowing that you share the North Star with millennia of fellow explorers, or even the simple joy of spinning a globe with your index finger. (Whatever happened to globes, anyway?)

How We Use Maps and Globes was part of a Basic Understanding series of primary school supplements, also including such out-of-print treasures as How People Earn and Use Money, How Farms Help Us, and How Our Government Helps Us.

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