Learning about the history of New Mexico through maps can be a tall order for students and perhaps a challenge for teachers. Maps have a demanding academic language of their own and visuals which may be difficult to comprehend, but one museum wanted to make use of their extensive collection to reach audiences in a new and unique way. The New Mexico History Museum was awarded a grant from the Council on Libraries and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Resources” program to not only make the collection accessible, but also to create a curriculum guide for educators. The Mapas historicas de Nuevo Mexico = Historic New Mexico Maps special project successfully opened these maps to the public through cataloging discovery tools, teacher workshops, a symposium, a free 30-page curriculum guide (“Historic Maps as Teaching Tools: a Curriculum Guide for Grades 5-8”), and outreach through presentations, tours and publications.

The map collection encompasses all of New Mexico history, from Spanish Colonial, Mexican Republic, U.S. Territorial, and Statehood periods. It shows rare insight into the early explorations of the New World, as well as the many historic trade routes of the Southwest such as the Camino Real and the Old Spanish Trail, and the popular Route 66. From academic scholars to fifth graders, the maps are one of NMHM’s most heavily used collections. The collection facilitates all types of research into topics like land grants, water rights, railroad history, early Spanish explorations, early Pueblos, military operations, and Spanish long-lot settlements.

But as an uncatalogued collection, these maps were difficult for patrons and staff to use efficiently and effectively. Now that over 6,000 maps have been cataloged, searchers are able to locate maps by topic (commerce, immigration, tourism, water rights, and land grants) rather than just by place and date. From the smallest map (4 inches by 5 ½ inches) to the largest map (13 feet by 122 feet), and for all different types of maps (over 1100 road maps, over 800 railroad maps, and over 2,000 topographic maps), this collection is a great resource for research and teaching. This project has increased map usage by staff, scholars, legal researchers, teachers, students and map lovers alike. NMHM continues to publicize the map collection through further hands-on teacher workshops, publications, and a Summer 2016 free two-day Map Mania Symposium open to the general public.

“Historic Maps as Teaching Tools: a Curriculum Guide for Grades 5-8” includes analyses and descriptions of maps important to understanding the history of exploration in the Southwest, from the Spanish Colonial Period and beyond. The chosen maps graphically display the intricate history of the acquisitions of lands through wars, treaties, and American expansion. The analyses of the historic importance of the maps are coupled with an array of didactic strategies such as in-class exercises, investigations, and games which encourage students to be active learners. These strategies complement the current national, state, and local curricula and social studies standards.

The New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors mission is to “explore the Southwestern experiences of the American story”. The Mapas historicos de Nuevo Mexico = Historic New Mexico Maps special project fits perfectly with the values of the New Mexico History Museum – to “present exhibitions and public programs that interpret historical events and reflect on the wide range of New Mexico historical experiences. … as a history center for research, education, and lifelong learning, delivering quality programs that encourage knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of New Mexico’s diverse cultures.”


New Mexico History Museum, Judy Reinhartz, Ph.D., and Dennis Reinhartz, Ph.D.
Santa Fe, NM

Award Details

2016 Award of Merit

Online Details

Museum Website

Contact Details

New Mexico History Museum
113 Lincoln Avenue
Santa Fe, NM 87501