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November 16th, 2022


Postcard from the collection of Clayton Bishop

Postcard from the collection of Clayton Bishop

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THIS Full ARTICLE and lesson Below:

Lessons written by the Florida Geographic Alliance.

Windows to the World

For Geography enthusiasts across the nation, today is the best day of the year! As we celebrate GIS Day, let's take a look at one way in which art has been used to celebrate place throughout recent history: Postcards.


Postcards are great primary sources that provide opportunities to study places and how places change over time. Postcards are a type of primary source that document the natural environment (bodies of water and landforms), as well as the “built” environment such as roads, buildings, homes, gardens. Cemeteries, and parks. Daily life is also documented in postcards such as work locations, types of transportation, religion, entertainment, recreation, and tourist sites.

So how can postcards be applied for inquiry with students? For one, picture postcards often display activities which today are puzzling. An old postcard shows a man and a horse performing what seems to be some type of work on the edge of a field. Amid piles of “sticks” a man stands behind two barrels, with a stickpoking into a bit of machinery linked to a wooden boom which in turn is hitched to the house. Students would explicate these bits of information from the postcard, but also be expected to put this data together to solve the mystery of what is being produced. If they are stumped, the teacher might raise questions to stimulate further lines of inquiry.


The picture postcard also permits teachers and their students to do a locality study, focused upon the physical and cultural relationships within a place and upon changes over time. People interact with the natural setting. They adapt to the setting and they, of course, modify that setting. The human modifications of the natural landscapes reveal their cultural values, beliefs, wealth, and level of technology, among other things. It is less obvious how people adapt themselves, their cultural beliefs, and values to the natural landscape. Using historical picture postcards in a locality study, students can more readily see these changes and their consequences.

Finally, the geography teacher at any grade level can implement postcards as a tool in the classroom. Teachers might develop a “Classroom Picture-Postcard Album,” using a bulletin board. Throughout the year, students and teachers might share picture postcards(with personal messages deleted) by adding them to the bulletin board. Students can work to categorize the “album” as the number of cards increases. 


An artform in and of itself, the picture postcard has great potential to serve as a catalyst to enhance students’ motivation to learn about other places.

Casino & hotel.jpg
Mattie Tate _ Paola.jpg


Postcards are inextricably linked to place. Here in Florida, we are lucky to have historians who meticulously collect and preserve the beautiful postcards from every corner of our state into historical record.

The collections of Clayton Bishop are one such resource. With your students, browse this StoryMap (or view below) featuring some of Florida's beautiful historical postcards.


Discuss how the imagery might relate to the place it represents, and what each photo reveals about the ways that people interact with that environment.


You have data - now what?

For today's activity we return to our favorite classroom online mapping tool, ArcGIS StoryMaps! Postcards, as we saw in our bellringer, are just as effective a source of data as any other primary source. And data, especially geographical data, can be mapped! As we navigate the relationship between art, land and people, we can use virtual mapping to reveal answers about our own history and identity as Floridians.

For this task, we will return to ArcGIS Online, an accessible tool for online mapping and cartography:

"Build interactive web maps with ArcGIS Online, Esri's web-based mapping software. Gain new perspectives and enhanced details as you interact with data, zoom in, and search on the map... Understand your data in the context of location by using intuitive analysis tools. Reveal relationships, identify prime locations, use optimal routes, and analyze patterns to make predictions."

To get started, take your students through the lessons below. Experiment with the free, easy-to-use tools - and don't be afraid to get creative!


Once you are comfortable with the tools, encourage your students to map items from one of their own collections - anything from coins to dried flowers, or even stones collected from beaches. Discuss and allow your students to analyze the story their spatial data tells about their lives.

Lessons written by the Florida Geographic Alliance.

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