Where in the world are we? A handful of great digital mapping resources have come to my attention lately. In addition to geography courses, these websites would fit nicely in history, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, foreign language, and even literature courses; maps are also a wonderful addition to digital storytelling projects.
First, a few specific resources:
If the ancient world is your thing, ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World would be a wonderful classroom addition. Like a travel site for ancient world, users can select their departure point and destination, the time of year travel is to take place, their method of travel, and their goal (speed or cost savings). The site then maps a route. No better way to bring home how ideas, people, and commerce might - and might not - spread. (Thanks to Chris Clark at Notre Dame's Kaneb Center for tipping me off to this resource.)
There are two great interactive projects related to slavery in the United States. First, National Geographic has a great digital branching story about the Underground Railroad. In this simulation, users make choices and receive feedback as they attempt to journey from Maryland to Canada. Though plenty of historical images and rich descriptions accompany each step, there are no useable map images.
The above site, however, would pair nicely with Visualizing Emancipation, a project from the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities). Visualizing Emancipation specifically focuses on the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War; data was gathered from a detailed study of primary documents including runaway slave notices, articles about returned slaves, troop locations, seasonal patterns, and instances of African-Americans helping the Union. For another review, you can consult the article in Chronicle of Higher Education about the project.
And now some more general digital mapping resources:
The United Nations Cartographic Section has a great list of regional political maps (all in an easy to use and re-use PDF format), maps about current peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions, and a small selection of institutional, historical, and regional maps. If you'd like a map of the Okavango River basin, they've got it. For more extensive geopolitical maps and facts,the CIA World Factbook is a great resource; this site even supports country-to-country comparisons, audio files of national anthems, and includes detailed information about each country.
I'd be remiss not to direct to you one of the finest digital map archives online, the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas. Like the UN site, they have maps related to current events, but their collection also includes general interest maps, historical maps, and fully digitized versions of several historical atlases.
For a more interactive map experience, check out the University of Oregon's Mapping History Project. Broken down by region and time period, these maps allow you to move a slider along the bottom of the map to illustrate the chronological progression of political, social, economic, and intellectual events. Sadly, they seem to be missing a section on Asia.
Last, to round out this survey of mapping resources, here's a great little animation reviewing how astronomers learned to measure celestial distances.