Using maps to understand Cause and Consequence and Continuity and Change

Ronald Martinello

I am currently the History/Geography head at  St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, Ontario. I teach History, Law and Civics. I am in my 26th year of teaching.

One activity I have begun to use in my classes is to compare maps between time periods to help promote an understanding of Cause and Consequence and of Continuity and Change. A good resource for this is the assortment of maps found at ( These maps can be used in a study of Modern Europe or in a course like the 20th Century Canadian History Course under the Ontario curriculum.

In particular, I have used the maps from 1914 to the present. In a study of World War I, students can see a clear change from 1914 to 1918. Students can also compare and contrast maps for changes and similarities in other time periods (e.g. comparing the changes from end of World War I to end of World War II, or end of World War II to the fall of communism).

On a simple level, students can use the maps to point out how Europe has changed and what has stayed the same. This can be as simple as identifying name changes or boundary changes. It can also be done to identify the creation of new countries or the partition of countries into smaller sections.

Deeper understanding comes when we begin to examine why these changes occur. Once we do this, we begin to see why there is some commonality or similarity between the concepts of Continuity and Change and Cause and Consequence.


The activity I like doing with my students involves an independent study that is of their choosing. In the first stage, students select two time periods they want to compare. It can be 1914-1918, it can be 1918-1945 or it can even be 1918-1989; the choice is theirs.

After this, they are to analyze according to the following requirements (I put limits on their analysis; otherwise this can become a huge undertaking):

  1. Identify any three specific changes in the maps. These changes need to be identified to me by submitting the two maps for study with the changes clearly highlighted.
  2. Next, students are to identify for me at least three factors of change for each of the three identified areas. In other words, why did the maps change? At this point, students can begin to look at factors like long term causes and immediate causes. There are social and economic implications, as well as religious, cultural or military factors that can be examined. I don’t really care what factors they examine as long as they can back up their assertions with evidence.
  3. Next, students identify the consequences of these changes. Again students can use a number of factors including short term and long term consequences as well as the other factors like social, economic, military, political, cultural, or religious factors. Once again, researched evidence needs to be used to support their conclusions. In all, I am again looking for at least 3 consequences for each change.

As a side note, I arbitrarily selected three causes and three consequences for each change. Part of this was to force students to understand that there are normally multiple factors of change and multiple factors of consequence. Some factors may carry more weight to them but the identification of multiple factors forces students into moving beyond simple explanations. I do not force them into specifically identifying short term and long term causes and short term and long term consequences although that does remain a possibility if I want to amend my assignment for future class.

  1. Finally, students are asked to make some predictions. The prediction asks student to identify what they foresee happening. I can’t evaluate the accuracy of the predictions, but I can judge the validity of why they made predictions based on their understanding of the causes and consequences identified.

For ease of evaluation and for ease of student organization I require students to identify in separate sections of their assignment the changes, the causes and the consequences for each identified change on the map. I could require students to link a consequence to a cause, but sometimes consequences could not be foreseen or multiple factors together may result in a single consequence. This may require a more complex analysis than I am willing to impose on my students at this point.

I think a map study can be used for a variety of levels of student ability. The complexity of the assignment can be up to you but there is plenty of room for complex analysis based on the age, ability and makeup of your students.