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Our place in history - Mapping change

Our place in history

Key questions

  • How can the growth of an area and change over time be mapped?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the local area in the past and today and how can they be identified?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Human processes

How can the growth of an area and change over time be mapped?

Most place names, up to about the 14th century, reflected the local environment. Their suffixes and prefixes largely depended on the dominant group of people in the settlement. For example, Roman language and Celtic language dominated the naming of places between 50BC and 400AD (see the Domesday Book Online website).

The first Ordnance Survey map was completed in 1801 (coincidentally the same year as the first modern census). It was of a one inch map of Kent and took over six years to complete (see the Ordnance Survey website for more details). Since then, the Ordnance Survey has worked tirelessly to produce accurate maps of different scales for public consumption. However, it is not just the Ordnance Survey which has produced historical maps of parts of the UK, and examples through history can be found in local museums and on the internet. For example, the Old Maps website is a useful source of historical maps which could be used for some of the activities in this lesson.

Maps can provide important clues to a settlement's past. By comparing an old map with a more recent one, similarities and differences in terms of growth and land use can be identified.

What are the similarities and differences between the local area in the past and today and how can they be identified?

Landscape archaeology is a fascinating area of study, in which clues to the lives of past groups of people are identified in the landscape. On his British Archaeology website, Peter Fowler highlights that "Landscape archaeology can be carried out in any part of Britain, so long as you acquire the right frame of mind to do it. If you accept that a landscape can be read, rather like a page of music, then you can learn to read it. Your view will change; instead of seeing scenery, you will find yourself looking at landscape; instead of seeing just hedges and fields and woods, your eyes will begin to elucidate patterns. This applies in towns and cities just as much as countryside."

Google Earth has made looking at the landscape a much more straightforward proposal and has to a growth in amateur landscape archaeology. The reading of the landscape can be quite a complex process, but the worksheet that accompanies this lesson aims to highlight the more obvious features which might be spotted, particularly in a rural context. In the urban environment, clues to past street patterns and historical buildings can be analysed. For example, the narrow streets of York, Cambridge and Norwich pre-date the car and consequently the modern versions of these cities have had to overlay this blueprint.

The BBC's Britain From Above website is another excellent resource for looking at our landscapes and contains short videos of different areas of the UK.




What's in a name?

Have you ever wondered why your town is called what it is?

In this lesson you will get the chance to find out.

The what's in a name PowerPoint presentation directs you to a website which gives the origins of place names. Use the website to find out where the name of your local town came from. Most settlement names have their origins several hundred or even thousand years in the past. They were usually descriptions of the site characteristics, or physical geography of the area.

But how appropriate are they today?

Take a look at an Ordnance Survey map of your local area. Your teacher may provide this, or you can get hold of one on the Ordnance Survey's Get-a-map website.

Can you find any evidence for the settlement's name today?

If you had to name the settlement today using evidence from the map, what would you call it? Why?



Mapping growth

In this activity, you will use the Internet to obtain historical maps of your local area and use these to investigate how your local area has changed over time.

Take a look at the mapping growth PowerPoint presentation which gives you instructions for the task.

Once you have followed the instructions and chosen three historical maps from the website, import them into a Word document where you can type a description of each map, write about how the local area has changed over time, and highlight any similarities and differences. In particular, try to work out how much the settlement has grown - you can show this on your different maps by shading the areas of growth.

The mapping growth Aylesbury example document is an example of what yours might look like.

Landscape archaeology

You might have found out in the starter activity for this lesson that your local town was named after an ancient archaeological feature in the area.

In this task, you will become an armchair archaeologist to find out more about strange features that appear in our landscape, and what their origins are.

This document explains the science of landscape archaeology, and introduces some of the features that you might come across in the landscape.

The BBC's Britain from Above website is another great place for finding out more about these features - and there's some spectacular photography too.

Use Google Earth to see if you can spot any archaeological features in your local landscape.

If you have time, you can add any information you find out to your historical maps from the last task.



A question of mapping the past

Have a go at the question of mapping past quiz either individually, in small groups or as a class. You will need to use the knowledge of historical mapping and landscape archaeology that you have gained in this lesson.

How well did you do?

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