British Empire – How can we infer so much about the empire from a study of just one map and the person who created it?

This session starts by looking at the information to be gleaned from a well-known 1886 map of the empire and  ends with them writing an evaluative expert caption to accompany a textbook image which refers explicitly to the provenance


  • Students understand how the Empire was perceived in Britain when at its height
  • They are able to identify at least 8 key features of a map that cast light on the nature of the empire
  • They can infer what the mapmaker was trying to say by what he included in the map
  • They can evaluate the usefulness of the source to historians of the empire by explicit reference to its provenance

Step 1

In pairs students explore their own copy of the map (preferably enlarged to A3 and laminated for future use). They work their way round the map from ‘midnight’ moving clockwise, trying to find 10 significant features of the map that they think the mapmaker included for a particular reason

Step 2

Ask for a range of ideas from different pairs but keep this snappy, following up the initial activity by asking them to annotate the 10 features of the map shown on slide 3. Ask them to

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