Mapping Pacific Worlds

How to Represent History and Movement with Maps

Created By: Jeffrey C. Guarneri

Quick Description

This lesson is designed for classes on global transportation, commodity, and migration history, as well as courses on geography or other subjects with an emphasis on cartography or motion.  In conjunction with a lecture and reading on whaling in the nineteenth century and the Euro-American entry into the Pacific world, students will create maps that represent the movement of crew hunting for whales in the Pacific. Although this exercise can also be applied in higher-level courses, the intended audience is first- and second-year students, or students who have little experience in producing concrete visualizations of textual sources.

The activity detailed below is intended for a 1 hour 15 minute class period.

Learning Objective(s)

The main objectives of this lesson are (1) to help students develop a means of visualizing and visually representing historical phenomena in map form, and (2) to create these representations in a way that can be explained to and understood by people who are unfamiliar with the phenomena in question. The exercise therefore has a twofold purpose: first, to teach students how to process material that is unfamiliar to them; and second, to teach students how to then convey what they have learned to others.

Course Plan

This lesson will take place within the first few weeks of class, as a means of preparing students to complete similar assignments on their own throughout the course. Students will subsequently be required to turn in a bi-weekly map of key course readings, with the goal of building towards a map activity/question on the mid-term and final exams. By teaching students how to map what they read, this activity will also aid students in remembering and understanding unfamiliar geographies and locales, as well as in organizing their thoughts spatially.       

Related Reading

Click image for book review
Click image for book review

David Igler, “The Great Hunt” in The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 99-128.

This reading for this activity focuses on the “Great Hunt” for marine mammals in the 19th century Pacific Northwest and California coast. This selection charts the movement of the Tiger, a ship that engaged in otter and whale hunting in the area, as its crew hunted for whales (as a source of whale oil) far away from their home port in Connecticut. The author situates this voyage within the broader context of Pacific Ocean histories of the nineteenth century, connecting the Tiger’s journey with scientific expeditions, pathogen transfers, and other contemporaneous outgrowths of the integration of the Pacific into the Euro-American world.

Student-Centered Activity

In order to achieve the first learning objective, students will listen to a lecture in the class session prior to the activity, and complete the above reading before class. After a brief review of the reading and previous day’s lecture, the instructor will introduce the activity to students, then break the students up into groups to complete their maps, as detailed below. Students will also be provided with questions in advance to guide their reading (see below); these questions will also be distributed along with the blank maps as a means of guiding group and class discussions of the maps and reading.

Students will be asked to represent the following on their maps: where the Tiger departed from, weighed anchor, hunted, and returned; what maritime routes the Tiger took on its voyage; the dates of arrival and duration of stay for the Tiger at the above locations; and what animals it hunted for at which locations. The Tiger’s route should be represented with arrows, dotted lines, etc.; how date ranges and species hunted are represented are free form, and up to students.

The following questions will be used to guide students’ reading and identification of key locations:

  • Explain the significance of the following locations: Connecticut, Hawai’i, the Pacific Northwest, and Magdalena Bay.

NOTE: Connecticut is the home port of the Tiger; Hawai’i is where the crew weighed anchor after failing to find sperm whales in the Pacific Northwest; and Magdalena Bay is where the Tiger hunted most heavily for gray whales

  • What did the Tiger and its crew head to the Pacific to hunt, and what did they ultimately end up hunting? What routes did they take, and why? What changed their plans?

NOTE: While the Tiger and its crew originally set out to find sperm whales in the Pacific Northwest, the sever depopulation of those whales led the crew to look for gray whales off the coast of Baja California after a stopover in Hawai’i.

  • What were the uses of whale products in the nineteenth century, and where were they consumed?

NOTE: Whale blubber for oil and whale meat for consumption, in Europe and the Americas.

  • Why was the “Great Hunt” so catastrophic for gray whales?

NOTE: Gray whales were hunted were they birthed, and mothers in particular were hunted, using their newborn young as bait. The resulting loss of life decimated the gray whale population in the region within years.

Once students have completed their maps and discussed the above questions in groups, the class will regroup to present students’ maps and go over the above questions together. (See: “Directions for Students”)

Materials Needed

The materials needed for this assignment include a map of the globe that shows both the eastern seaboard of the United States and the entire Pacific Basin; a handout with discussion questions; writing utensils (such as colored markers) for students to trace the movement of the Tiger; a projector for volunteers to share their maps with the entire class; and maps, either historical or created by the instructor, to provide examples of additional ways that students can visually represent histories of movement.

A good, creative commons map that can be used for this activity can be found at the following URL:


The set-up for this lesson will require a lecture on whaling in the nineteenth century and seafaring in the Pacific and Atlantic, prior to the day of the activity. Additionally, advance notice of the activity will be provided during said lecture, and instructions for the activity as well as a brief explanation and demonstration will be provided both in email form after the lecture and as a facsimile on the day of the lesson.

Set-up time can be broken down as follows (20 minutes total):

  • Recap the previous day’s lecture (5 minutes)
  • Explain the activity for the day (5 minutes)
  • Demonstrate how to visualize movement (in this case, seafaring ships) on a map (5 minutes)
  • Get students into groups and distributing maps/discussion questions (5 minutes)

Directions for Students

First, the instructor will use a projector to demonstrate how to trace movement on a map. Ideally, the instructor should represent, say, the voyages of whaling ships in the Atlantic, so as not to merely provide an example of a map of the readings that students can then copy. During this demonstration, the instructor should also show how to note the locations where these ships weighed anchor, hunted whales, sold their yield, and what dates they stopped, so as to prepare students to do the same using the reading and discussion questions.

Once students are in their groups and have received their maps and discussion questions (see above), the activity should proceed as follows:

(1) Students draw maps in their groups (10 minutes)

(2) Students compare maps and answer discussion questions in groups (20 minutes)

(3) Regroup class and have three groups present the map they felt best represented the reading; answer discussion questions as a class (15 minutes)

(4) Recap major points of lesson (representing movement, why whalers went where they did, what places were affected by the “Great Hunt,” etc.) (5 minutes)

  • Collect student maps and end class (5 minutes)


The activity will be reinforced by discussing the relative strengths of each group’s map, as well as what they included or left out, and why. This will help to illustrate how people recall, process, and interpret the same information (in this case, a shared reading) in both different and overlapping ways. Of most immediate relevance to the preceding lecture and accompanying reading is that these maps will serve as visual reminders of the extent of whale population decline and the lengths to which whaling fleets went in the nineteenth century, traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific in search of these marine mammals. Lastly, the maps and reading will demonstrate to students how increasingly interconnected the Atlantic and Pacific worlds were by mid-century, and will serve as a springboard for demonstrating the intensification of those connections in the following century and a half.

Additionally, the instructor will collect students’ maps in order to offer feedback and suggestions for their future mapping assignments. This will provide students with targeted feedback, rather than only with class-wide feedback, which will carry the added benefit of allowing the instructor to get a better feel for how well individual students are able to process the spatial and historical components of course readings and lectures.

Lesson Plan Discussion Questions DOWNLOAD

Lesson Plan DOWNLOAD

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