Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/December 1874/The Early Study of Geography

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By Major WILSON.

BEFORE concluding this portion of my address, I would draw your attention to the appliances used in the minor schools of this country for teaching geography, as they would seem to need some improvement. The appliances to which I allude are models or relief maps, wall maps, atlases, and globes. The use of models as a means of conveying geographical instruction has been too much neglected in our schools. If any one considers the difficulty a pupil has in understanding the drawing of a steam-engine, and the ease with which he grasps the meaning of the working model, and how from studying the model and comparing it with the drawing he gradually learns to comprehend the latter, he will see that a model of ground may be used in a similar manner to teach the reading of a map of the same area. Relief maps of large areas on a small scale have their uses, but they are unsuitable for educational purposes on account of the manner in which heights must be exaggerated to make them appear at all; this objection, however, does not apply to models of limited areas on a sufficient scale, which always give a truthful and effective representation of the ground. One reason why models have not been more used has been their cost, but the means of constructing them with ease, rapidity, and at slight expense, are quickly accumulating as the six-inch contoured sheets of the Ordnance Survey are published. Instruction in geography should begin at home; and I would suggest that, as the six-inch survey progresses, each decent school throughout the country should be provided with a model and a map of the district in which it is situated. If this were done, the pupils would soon learn to read the model, and, having once succeeded in doing this, it would not be long before they were able to understand the conventional manner in which topographical features are represented on a plane surface, and acquire the power of reading not only the map of their own neighborhood, but any map which was placed before them. In our wall maps I think we have been too much inclined to pay attention to the boundaries of countries, and to neglect the general features of the ground. It is difficult to say whether the maps have followed the teachers or the teachers the maps, but I fear instruction in physical geography too often comes after that in political geography, instead of a knowledge of the latter being based on a knowledge of the physical features of the earth. My meaning may perhaps be explained by reference to a wall map probably well known to every one, that of Palestine, which frequently disfigures rather than ornaments the walls of our schoolrooms. In this map there are usually deep shades of red, yellow, and green, to distinguish the districts of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, and perhaps another color for the Trans-Jordanic region, with a number of Bible names inserted on the surface, while the natural features are quite subordinate, and sometimes not even indicated. There is perhaps no book that bears the impress of the country in which it was written so strongly as the Bible; but it is quite impossible for a teacher to enable his pupils to realize what that country is with the maps at present at his disposal. The first object of a wall map should be to show the geographical features of countries, not their boundaries, and for this purpose details should be omitted, and the grander features have special attention paid to them. In school atlases the same fault may be traced, physical features being too often made subordinate to political divisions; and there is also, in many cases, a tendency to overcrowd the maps with a multitude of names which only serve to confuse the pupil and divert his attention from the main points. The use of globes in our schools should be encouraged as much as possible, as there are many physical phenomena which cannot well be explained without them, and they offer far better means of conveying a knowledge of the relative positions of the various countries, seas, etc., than any maps. The great expense of globes has hitherto prevented their very general use, but some experiments are at present being made with a view to lessening the cost of the construction, which it is hoped may be successful. I cannot pass from this subject without alluding to that class of maps which gives life to the large volumes of statistics which are accumulating with such rapidity. On the Continent these maps are employed to an extent unknown in this country, both for purposes of reference and education, and they convey their information in a simple and effective manner.

  1. From the Opening Address of the President of the Geographical Section of the British Association.