Published Date

January 1, 2004

Resource Type

For the Classroom




United States

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “Discovering American Social History on the Web” by Dan Kallgren.

Topographical map of the Durham area

Topographical maps, like the one above, provide a wealth of information on the built and natural environment in a particular place. On these maps you will find a host of information on such things as the transportation system in an area (railroads, roads and highways, airports), the power system (through the presence or absence of electrical lines) the extent of forests and fields, and the location of buildings and structures – from sewerage disposal plants to homes to drive-in movie theatres. Because of this, these maps are a wonderful primary source for historians – they preserve an image of an area at one point in time. Since historians are concerned with change over time, we can literally SEE change over time on the landscape by comparing earlier versions of these maps with subsequent versions. And that is your assignment, compare at least three versions of the same map, record the changes you see in your place, and make some preliminary assessments as to why those changes have taken place.

Your assignment: “Select, analyze and write about change over time”

  1. Visit the website listed above and familiarize yourself with the materials contained therein.
  2. Chose one of the following areas focus your attention on:
    1. Manchester, New Hampshire (NW)
    2. Dover, New Hampshire (NW)
    3. Newcastle, New Hampshire (York quad, SW)
    4. Hampstead, New Hampshire (SE)
    5. Portsmouth, NH (Dover quad, SE corner)
    6. Portland, ME (NE and South 2+3)
  3. Prepare a short report (3-5 pages) on the changes in the landscape you found in your area. How does the transportation network change? Why? Do you see examples of suburbanization in your area? Are there changes in the types of buildings you see in the area? Any ideas as to why? Any other interesting changes appear on the landscape, things that represent changes in American society by the 1950s – state parks, drive in theatres, shopping centers, any military installations which might reflect the Cold War? Look close at these, I think you will be surprised at the amount of change.

If you REALLY want to get involved, go to this website ( and locate your area. This site has more up to date topographical maps, so you may be able to see even more change than from the maps at UNH. The images from these maps are of rather poor quality however, so I would not rely on them too much.