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True North: Mapping Minnesota's History

Minnesota Historical Society
In-house: Minnesota Historical Society and Land Management Information Center

Highlights of True North- Over 200 maps of Minnesota’s past and present- Built on Open Source mapping platform- Links to photos, archives and alternate media - Ready-to-serve online and printable lessons - Teacher-submitted ideas and tips- 4-12 grade standards correlationsThis past year, the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), in close collaboration with the Land Management Information Center (LMIC), launched a new Web site that uses online Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to integrate history and geography, highlight the museum’s digital collections, meet state education standards, and offer valuable teaching tools for educators.Supported by the Institute for Library and Museum Services (IMLS), True North website integrates more than 200 Minnesota map layers and remote databases into a free online tool. The layers include modern demographic, environmental and economic maps, as well as historical maps and data-based representations of historic events (such as Dakota War battle sites and regions devastated by the 1870s grasshopper plagues).The site was designed specifically for 4-12 grade teachers and students. Users can view, create, overlay, re-color and print maps; the site automatically links thematic maps to additional historic resources such as photographs and archival material. So, for example, if you were to turn the on the map of Vegetable Processing Plants, you might notice a preponderance in northwest Minnesota. Clicking this map’s historic links would show a 1929 photograph of the early days of canning in Blue Earth county, as well as a link to an article documenting the lives of migrant workers in northeast Minnesota. Suggested additional maps include census data, commuting times, and original natural vegetation. Layered atop one another, these start to build an understanding of how culture, environment and agriculture collide through time. To tie these resources together comprehensively for teachers, True North offers complete lesson plans for 4-8 grade classrooms and lesson guidelines for 9-12 grade classrooms. These resources offer teachers a quick way to use the site and conveniently package the instruction techniques, worksheets and assessments, then to correlate all these to state curriculum standards. Popular web sites such as Google Earth and Mapquest make it clear that GIS applications are potentially quite valuable to educators. Their value, though, is limited by the ability to manipulate the content; users can only perform a few pre-determined tasks, most often simply finding locations and directions, using contemporary data and images.In contrast, True North provides access to digital content relevant to the historical and cultural heritage of Minnesota, along with a set of tools that supports historical research. Based on audience research, the site is framed for a particular audience, 4-12 teachers, but the content and the tools can be widely applied by researchers with a variety of needs.From maps and their history links, students can learn of the slow paths of glaciers and the soils they enriched; or the railroad boom; or the culture of Jewish iron ore towns that produced a cultural icon like Bob Dylan. By layering maps not only with each other, but with cultural artifacts, photographs and narratives, history and geography can be taught from multiple perspectives simultaneously. True North allows students to search for their school or zoom in and find out how many layers of history juxtapose right atop their home.To explore the guided lessons, go to explore the maps, go to and follow the example tutorial below: - Click to open the Historic Events Folder and check Cessions and Treaties.- Click to open the Archival Maps folder and check American Indian Treaties.- Click Update to refresh the map page and see Legend pop up.- Toggling back and forth between legend and historic links, click on links to view archival resources related to these maps, including a portrait of the Signing of the Treaty des Sioux.- To explore the Treaty maps more deeply, click on the information key in the mapping tool bar (looks like an i with a circle around it) and then click anywhere in the map. - In the pop up box you will see “place names” and “cessions” lists. The ‘place names’ gives the historic etymology of every place in the area you clicked, while clicking the ‘cessions’ will link to the Library of Congress American Memory site which describes each specific treaty and allows users to read the original treaty text.

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