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Historical Context

Bird’s eye maps came into popularity after the Civil War and into the early 20th century.  A bird’s-eye-view map shows a place from an aerial or “bird’s eye” perspective.  Artists would walk the streets of a city, sketching buildings and landscaping. They would then depict what they saw as if viewed from above.  Despite mapmakers practicing this method of mapping for centuries, bird’s-eye-view maps became very popular.

Small towns and urban centers all over the United States clamored for bird’s eye view maps. One reason for their popularity is that the maps offered cities, businesses, and organizations a great way to promote themselves. As a result, businesses, churches, and individuals paid money to the mapmaker to have their buildings included or even highlighted. These maps are often an idyllic view of a place, showing industry, progress, and wealth.

Learning Objectives

Familiar location is a key consideration when teaching with bird’s-eye-view maps. Making connections to a map is easier when students recognize landmarks, streets, and buildings. This primary source set of maps offers a variety of locations throughout Michigan.   Students can analyze the maps to:  interpret point of view, context (when was the map made and why was it important for that location), bias, and frame of reference. Students can also examine change over time not only in their community, but in communities across Michigan.

Michigan Social Studies Standards

  • 3-H3.0.1:  Explain how historians use primary and secondary sources to answer questions about the past.
  • 3-H3.0.7:  Use a variety of primary and secondary sources to construct a historical narrative about daily life in the early settlements of Michigan.
  • 3-G1.0.2:  Use thematic maps to identify and describe the physical and human characteristics of Michigan.
  • 4-H3.0.5:  Use visual data and informational text or primary accounts to compare a major Michigan economic activity today with that same activity or a related activity in the past.
  • 4-G2.0.2:  Locate and describe human and physical characteristics of major U.S. regions and compare them to the Great Lakes region

Primary Source Set

Adrian is spelled out at the base of an illustration of a building at Adrian College.

Adrian

Description

Printed black and white birds-eye-view of the city of Adrian, Michigan.

Collection

Adrian

Date

1866
View
The bottom half reads

Birds Eye View of the City of Lansing

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Lansing, Michigan.

View
The bottom reads

Birds Eye View of Jonesville

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Jonesville, Michigan.

Date

1872
View
Ilustrated ariel view of trees, green medow, and one street. Botoom reads

Birds Eye View of Saline

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Saline, Michigan.

Date

1872
View
At the top reads

Petoskey in 1880 [Birds Eye View]

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Petoskey, Michigan.

Date

1880
View
Ilustrated ariel view of trees, green medow, and one street. Botoom reads

Bird's Eye View of Montague, Muskegon Co., Mich.

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Montague, Michigan.

View
Ilustrated ariel view of trees, green medow, and one street. Botoom reads

Bird's Eye View of Whitehall, Muskegon Co., Mich.

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Whitehall, Michigan.

View
Ilustrated ariel view of a harbor. Bottom reads

Houghton, Mich. [Birds Eye View] Population 2500

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Houghton, Michigan.

View
Illustrated aerial view of the city of Coldwater. Bottom reads

Panoramic View of the City of Coldwater

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Coldwater, Michigan.

View
Illustrated aerial view of the city of Benton Harbor. Bottom reads

Benton Harbor, Mich Looking North West

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Benton Harbor, Michigan.

View
Ilustrated ariel view of the port of Muskegon. Bottom reads

Birds-Eye View of Muskegon Michigan From Muskegon Lake Looking East

Description

Printed birds-eye view of Muskegon, Michigan.

View

More Bird's Eye Maps

For additional bird's eye view maps of Michigan cities and towns, visit the Library Of Congress' Collection.

For additional bird’s eye view maps of Michigan cities and towns, visit the Library Of Congress’ Collection.