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Lesson 5.1: Assessing the need for Reform Through Maps


Lesson 5.1: Assessing the need for Reform Through Maps


Topic 1: The Need for Reform: A Study in the Geopolitics of the Ottoman Empire


Topic Overview

In the first two decades of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire still dominated much of the eastern and southern coastlines of the Mediterranean (which included its semi-independent states of Egypt and Tunisia).   But as the century wore on the Ottomans lost territory to independence movements in Greece and the Balkans, as well as territories in the east to the encroaching Russian Empire.  Other dilemmas were how to compete with an increasingly industrialized northern Europe, which had access to water, wood, and coal, and how to respond to new ideas spreading throughout Europe via the Napoleonic conquests.  This study in maps helps students to understand and assess the effectiveness of subsequent reform movements within the empire: the subject of many lessons within this module.   

Lesson Overview

In this lesson students use a series of maps to assess the geopolitical challenges facing the Ottoman Empire vis-à-vis its Mediterranean neighbors and Northern Europe. Subsequently they write letters to the Ottoman Sultan, advising him what to do to modernize the empire. The lesson is intended to provide students with a bird’s-eye view that serves to explain why the Ottoman Empire was seeking to reform its economy and political structures by mid-century.


Joan Brodsky Schur


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


One 45-50 minute period of class time, for study of maps A - F


Standards: National Standards for History, National Center for History in the Schools, Basic Edition, 1996. Standard 3A: The student understands how the Ottoman Empire attempted to meet the challenge of Western military, political, and economic power.


• The students will interpret information presented on different types of maps.

• They will synthesize information from a variety of maps.

• They will explain why access to coal was an important factor in determining which countries industrialized first. • They will foresee the implications of the spread of revolutionary ideas emanating from France in the Napoleonic era.

• They will predict the consequences of these trends for the Ottoman Empire.

• They will posit possible solutions to the challenges facing the Ottoman Empire.

• They will analyze the re-drawn map of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.


• Handout 5.1.1. Questions to Accompany Maps A through F

• Handout 5.1.2 Maps A through F

Lesson Plan Text

1. Activity 1: Divide the class into Teams and assign all Teams to work through the sequence of questions regarding all of the maps. The maps can be distributed in hard copy or accessed via computer.

2. Note that, depending upon the degree of background information students have already acquired, the teacher may need to supplement this lesson. The teacher should circulate as students work, pose questions that helps students to draw on prior information and/or to supply relevant new information.

3. Activity 2: Whole- Class De-Briefing and Assessment on Maps A. through F. Ask the class to synthesize what they have learned about the geopolitical situation of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century based on the maps (as well as whatever prior information students can bring to bear on these issues).

4. Synthesize what you have learned from all of the maps to make a list of the problems confronting the Ottoman Empire during (the first half) of the 19th century. (Lack of waterways and coal, the need to industrialize including the building of railroads, need to insure the ability to defend against encroaching powers and loss of territory, lack of ready access to markets and resources across the Atlantic, need to respond to revolutionary ideas spread by the impact of the French Revolution. [Note how republican ideals might have stirred a passion for self-rule in outlying areas of the Ottoman Empire and/or the desire for minority rights within the Ottoman Empire.]

5. Assessment: a. Imagine that you are at the Sublime Porte in Istanbul (the seat of government for the Ottomans) in the role of Grand Vizier. Write a list of recommendations for the Sultan, based on your assessment of the geopolitical situation confronting the Ottoman Empire. Prioritize your list with the most urgent concerns at the top of your list. Use the maps to provide the Sultan with evidence of the need to implement your recommendations. b. Research and write: Compare the need for reform in the Ottoman Empire to that in other Mediterranean basin regions such as Spain and Italy.

6. Extension: Research the consequences of the lack of coal, wood and navigable rivers in the Mediterranean region as compared to northern Europe. To what extent could these deficits be overcome through political and economic reform?



Joan Brodsky Schur, “Lesson 5.1: Assessing the need for Reform Through Maps,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 4, 2020,

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