Earlier this spring students in Dr. Zavitz’s Medieval World History class delved into the history of the Silk Road. The most extensive trade route at the time, the Silk Road connected Asia, Africa, and Europe in a global exchange of ideas, goods, people, and technology. To understand the history of the Silk Road and the people, cultures, and societies along it, students researched four points on both the land and sea routes and created a digital map to narrate the history of the four locations and their connection to the Silk Road. As Alyssa G ‘23 explained, the focus on four places provided both a deep dive into that location’s history and a better understanding of the entire route’s history. “Even with researching my four locations I learned so much more than what happened at those places,” she said, “I learned a larger picture of what happened all around the world at the time of the Silk Road.”
First stop, Rome, on Elijah’s map
The map challenged students to synthesize their research and apply their writing skills in a different format than the usual essay. As Julia ‘23 concluded, “I really liked this project because it gave us the chance to use a new and non-typical format for demonstrating our knowledge. I enjoyed that we had the flexibility to research and write about locations that stood out to us individually. The StoryMap technology was easy to grasp, and it was nice to have a project that felt different from a normal essay.” As students researched their four locations, they also had to locate them on a 21st century Google map. This was challenging at times as many locations no longer exist. Students had to figure out the most accurate placement for these historic waystations. Imani ‘23 noted, “I thought the map was a great way to combine geographical learning and world history.”
An important stop in the deserts of present-day Kazakhstan, Otrar on Kaitlin’s map, is now just ruins.
Unlike an essay, the map weaves together images and text to tell a story. This asks students to think about their audience in a new way and consider how their images support their writing. Finn ‘23 explained how the map allowed him to visualize research in a new format. “I liked using the StoryMap software to create a visualization of our research rather than just another standard paper,” Finn said. The program also provides the space for students to individualize the map with images, colors, background, and font. As Miles ‘23 noted, this was a great bonus (and way to incorporate coding knowledge) to the project that students don’t have with an essay. He said, “Being able to customize my map after researching was a super fun experience!”
This project helped us think through our own current positions in this global, connected, modern world. As Molly ‘23 reminds us, “Researching about the Silk Road has impacted the way I think about how the world has evolved with transportation and trade.”
Landing page for Molly’s digital map
To explore some of the amazing projects they put together, please use the links below. Enjoy the digital voyage!