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Mapping Black History through Music with ArcGIS

February is Black History month in North America. This is an opportunity for your students to explore Black History in Canada and the United States and its connection to music, using ArcGIS. 

In North America, February is dedicated to celebrating the lives and contributions of the Black community. However, no matter what month it is, you can explore the roots of popular music and jazz through the struggles and feats of Black communities in Canada and the United States.

Most people would agree that it’s hard to live without music. It energizes us through dance and movement; it comforts us and allows us to connect with others. We can also learn so much through music, as it is a creative outlet that drives people to document their personal struggles during times of intense social, personal and political change. For example, a song can provide insight into the life of an enslaved person who used the underground railroad to find freedom in Canada. Music is a great avenue to connect us to the past, as we learn about the hardships Black North Americans endured and the music that has been inspired by difficult events.

Image showing hands of people drumming on traditional African drums.

American music like jazz, blues and gospel have roots in African music. Let’s celebrate Black History through music and mapping! Photo by Lee Pigott on Unsplash.

Using an ArcGIS Online account, you can create an ArcGIS StoryMap that highlights African influences in modern music.

  1. Select a genre of music that’s rooted in North American Black History, such as Hip-Hop, Soul, R&B or Jazz. In your story map, you can:
    1. Create an express map to locate where the music genre was started.
    2. What was the political or social climate for Black people at the time?
    3. Include in the express map - who and where the pioneers of that genre were from.
  2. Select a Black Canadian or American musician. In your story map, you can:
    1. Document their roots in a web map and the contributions they made to the music world.
  3. Select a protest song or spiritual song written by a Black Canadian or American. In your story map, you can:
    1. Document the meaning behind the song and include events in a web map that are connected to their experiences.

A mural of a black woman reaching out (in the likeness of Harriet Tubman).

Harriet Tubman used spiritual songs like “Wade in the Water” to guide enslaved people to freedom in Canada. This particular song includes secret code messages for escaping enslaved peoples. Photo by Kirt Morris on Unsplash

  1. Explore the African origins of instruments used in many forms of popular music, such as drums, and guitar. In your story map, you can:
    1. Create an express map to locate where the instrument is from and how it arrived in North America.
    2. Document what genres of music those instruments are used in.

Consider this – if the Black History of North America was different, how would the music sound?

Note: The content for this post was first published on February 15th, 2017.

ArcGIS StoryMaps resources

Use the following resources to create your Black History through Music story map:

We want to know how your students are using ArcGIS

Share your students’ story maps with us at and they may be highlighted in an upcoming Esri Canada Education and Research blog post or tweet (@GIS4Teachers)!

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at

Explore the Esri Canada K-12 Resource Finder to find other resources for your class.

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online
Explore the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

Using ArcGIS Online and want to learn more?

Discover Story Maps
Creating ArcGIS Dashboards

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander