This Week in Geographic History: February 19-25

Here’s an advance look at some of the “This Day in Geographic History” (TDIGH) events coming up this week. For each date, we’ve matched it with a map or visual, background information, and a classroom activity or lesson plan so you can plan ahead.

Check out our Pinterest board for more related resources!

Monday, February 19

The Donner Party’s long winter was probably not as Chagall-like as this painting, but we love the fresh take.
Art by Vincent Decourt, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-4.0

TDIGH: Rescuers Reach the Donner Party

The Donner Party made crucial geographic mistakes from the beginning of their journey west. Lesson: “Remember, never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can.”

Map: Browse this collection of maps of the Donner Party’s route, Hastings Cutoff, and—primary source alert!—James Reed’s map of the Sierra Nevada.

Background: Wikipedia has an outstanding timeline of the events of the Donner Party. Alternately, if you have the opportunity to watch the outstanding documentary The Donner Party, discuss why it’s been called “the most terrifying PBS special of all time.”

Activity: Use this podcast and worksheet to develop a class debate: Was Lansford Hastings responsible for the tragedy? This is an excellent geography lesson!


Monday, February 19

Siberian Oil
An oil worker lays a pipeline in Siberia, Russia.
Photograph by Gerd Ludwig, National Geographic

TDIGH: First Oil Pipeline Completed

Since the first oil pipeline was built in Pennsylvania in 1863, networks of underground pipelines have been constructed around the world.

Map: Navigate this interactive map of U.S. pipelines.

Background: Learn what is being transported in those pipelines, and why it matters.

Activity: Connect this to the simmering debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline by reading “Dakota Access Pipeline: What You Need to Know” and NPR’s series on the topic.

Tuesday, February 20

Russia’s “national ballet” went en pointe, with dueling swans and a quartet of cygnets (above), in 1877.

Visual: Compare and contrast the delightfully famous cygnets dance above (the Pacific Northwest Ballet) with this version from the Mariinsky Ballet and this version from choreographer Matthew Bourne.

Background: This short synopsis of Swan Lake might help students follow the loose narrative of the ballet.

Activity: Swan Lake is nicknamed Russia’s “national ballet.” The performance has roots in Russian arts, culture, and history. Can students think of a movie, piece of music, or dance that embodies the United States? Why?


Tuesday, February 20

NGS Picture Id:1253580
Richard and Pat Nixon, shown visiting the Soviet Union in 1959 while Nixon was vice president, traveled to China together in 1972.
Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

TDIGH: Nixon in China

President Nixon’s surprising 1972 visit to Beijing paved the way for the U.S. government’s eventual recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Visual: Interactive timeline of US-China relations

Background: The Two Chinas

Activity: Considering the context of 1972 (the Cold War and the Vietnam War), why did the U.S. want to have improved relations with China? (Answer can be found here.)


Thursday, February 20

TDIGH: Miracle on Ice

This 1980 upset victory of the U.S. over the Soviet Union in hockey was named the international “story of the century” by the International Ice Hockey Federation, and Sports Illustrated’s “sports moment of the century.”

Visual: Watch this preview for the spectacular documentary on the 1980 Soviet Olympic hockey team. (And watch the film if you can!) How might the Soviets tell the “Miracle on Ice” story?

Background: Learn how journalists prepared to cover the game, and how hockey coverage has changed since 1980.

Activity: The “Miracle on Ice” was promoted as a sort of victory of capitalism over communism. Do you think Olympic or international sports stories are still promoted in that way? Think about coverage of the current PyeongChang games and use our study guides on the Russian and Korean delegations as jumping-off points.

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