Website review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2016

American Panorama

Interactive atlas magnifies events in United States history

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Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Valuable enrichment tool lets users examine immigration patterns, overland trails, canals, and more.

Cons: No lesson plans provided for how to use the site in the classroom.

Bottom Line: With layers of learning opportunities, this is a unique interactive resource to supplement curriculum.

United States history teachers will love American Panorama. Use the site with the whole class to introduce a topic, and students can explore the maps at their own pace with their own devices. Guided lessons with clear objectives should be created to help students make full use of the maps; for example, have students explore the experiences of slaves at different time periods by reading narratives and comparing data. The Foreign-Born Population map is a great fit for a unit on immigration. Students can learn about migration patterns for the whole country over time as well as zoom in on a specific year or city to discover countries of origin. The diaries included with the Overland Trails map humanize the history for the students and would be appropriate enrichment for a unit on westward expansion. 

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American Panorama, created by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, is a site featuring dynamic interactive historical maps. Currently there are four maps on the site: Forced Migration of Enslaved Peoples, Overland Trails, Foreign-Born Population, and Canals.

Each map has multiple features and layers of content for users to explore. With the Canals map, you can choose a specific canal in the northeast, and then learn about its historical growth, or, with the Overland Trails map, you can choose a trail and read diaries of people's experiences. The maps can all be magnified, and you can zoom in on a particular location or time period. American Panorama is an ongoing project with more maps to come on topics including the Great Depression, Post-War America, and Presidential Elections.

Map fans and history buffs alike will appreciate the depth and innovation of the American Panorama maps. While there are no specific guidelines for how to use the maps in the classroom, there are clear benefits for student learning here. Students of all ages will appreciate the slick graphics and the freedom to manipulate the maps in multiple ways.

Just playing around with the maps and all their features certainly has value, but it might take a small lift for teachers to design lessons around these resources. Aligning some specific tasks with each map could help boost students' skill development and content knowledge in history and geography. As it is, students will need some guidance to understand the many components of each map, but there's a wealth of information here that could easily add depth and dimension to your existing lesson plans around these topics. 

Overall Rating


Interactive features and interesting maps will appeal to students. Engagement, in part, will depend on how teachers use the site in the classroom.


Although not created specifically for the classroom, the interactive features, meaningful content, and vibrant visuals are well-suited for a United States history course.


While each map has a short description, there are no lesson plans. Teachers and students will need time to play around with the different tools to fully understand all the available content.

Common Sense reviewer
Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

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