History Optional Map Work – Tips and Notes (by Nandini Maharaj, AIR 42)

Hi everyone! I’m Nandini Maharaj, and I have scored Rank 42 this year. My optional was history, and I have also done my bachelors in History Honours. 

My first article for Demystify is a very niche article for my history optional fellows: regarding map work, which accounts for 50 marks of paper 1. 

Why I have chosen this topic as my first blog post: 

  1. I have given the UPSC exam twice. In my first attempt, I got 114 in history optional paper 1. Second attempt: 147. The main difference in my preparation: I didn’t do maps the first time, and thoroughly did maps the second time. 
  2. Excuse the nerd sentiment, but I usually enjoy studying. Yet I found preparing for maps exceedingly painful and boring. So I understand your pain of going over and mugging up and ratta-maroing 500 unintelligible historical sites. You are not alone. I encourage you to push through the boredom, steel yourself and just do it :/ (!)
  3. I did not find very good notes for map work in the market. Most of the books are alphabetical, which just decontextualised every site into a random name with facts. It is much better to do maps thematically – eg: Palaeolithic maps, Harappa maps etc. So I made my own Google maps (correction – my absolutely outstanding friend Koyna Tomar made maps for me – and I guess now for all of us). I wanted to share the notes, with the hope that they will help you. Another good source for maps is selfstudyhistory. Gaurav Agarwal, 2013 topper, has also shared his notes on his blog https://thesupermanreturns.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/upscnotesgauravagrawal/

Now getting back to studying maps.

To approach any topic, the first thing we need to understand is how UPSC asks questions from it. The usual approach for this is going over the syllabus and the previous year questions. However, there is no specific syllabus for map work (please go over the PYQs). So let’s look at the standard compulsory question that is asked. 

  • Its asked in History Optional Paper 1 
  • Identify the following places marked on the map supplied to you and write a  short note of about 30  words on each of them in your Question-cum-Answer Booklet. Locational hints for each of the places marked on the map are given below seriatim.      
  • 50 marks 
  • Compulsory 

Okay so we’ve seen the question. Now let us deconstruct it. 

  1. We have to identify places with locational hints – they are going to mark a point in say Assam, and give a clue ‘an ancient capital’. It is your job to guess that they are talking about Pragjyotishpura. 
  2. Once you’ve identified the site, you have to write a short note of 30 words. Give the time constraint, I did not focus too much on word limits anywhere. There is a space limit in your answer sheets always – between the first map point and the second map point, there is the space of about a OnePlus phone kept horizontally. I focused on intelligently filling the space. I wrote in points, and had a flexible target of writing 4 points per map site. If you find writing in paragraphs more comfortable, go for it. 
  3. Seriatim: taking one subject after another in regular order; point by point. (If I could add the monkey that hides face emoticon here I would – I had to google this word)
  4. Every site is for 2.5 marks. 20 sites are asked. 

You know what to do now. Moving onto how to do it: 

  1. Try and do the map work with the theoretical work. Eg: prepare Harappa maps while studying about the IVC. This way, you can contextualise the information more and hence remember more. 
  2. For some topics it will be difficult to combine theory with map work – just do them separately. 
  3. Every time you do a map, TEST yourself on it. How I did this – 
  • Read the map carefully 
  • Memorise information site by site – eg: read the information about the site Ropar. Then close my eyes and repeat the information to myself. Then do the same for the next site and so on. 
  • After I did this for all sites, I would make someone quiz me. They would throw names of sites at me, and I would repeat the information back to them. 
  • Two days later, I would give a test on the map. Koyna was kind enough to make the tests. If you can find someone to do the same for you, it will be very helpful. It just takes the helping person about 5 minutes to make a test. 
    • Give your friend an empty map. Tell her to mark about 10 points from the main map – number the points she is marking – and make a separate answer key with the name of the site next to the number. And voila, you have your very own personalised test. 
  • After I was done with two three maps, I would take a combined test. This time, I would ask my friend to write clues next to the number just like they do in the actual exam. Clues would be simple – basically the theme of the map – eg Palaeolithic site, Mesolithic site, etc. 
  • All this ratta-fication was soul numbing. But absolutely worth it. 

This was my basic strategy for map work. A little bit more advice:

  1. Do the PYQs of map work (and everything else) with love and attention and care and feels and hope. Past 5 years first, then go backwards year wise as much as you can (I went 30 years for history, 5 years for GS). Map PYQs a few years back are site names you have to mark on a map, so just make sure you are familiar with the site. I did not do map markings as such.
  2. Focus on the ancient maps over the medieval ones. I did not do modern as such, even though there is no clause saying that only maps from ancient and medieval will be asked. Given the trend of the PYQs and the fact that the maps are asked in Paper 1, I chose to only do ancient and medieval maps. 
  3. While reading NCERTs, pay close attention to the maps. Build a habit of acknowledging a historical site whenever you see it in a map. 
  4. You can check out my map work course on Unacademy (https://unacademy.com/course/maps-for-history-optional-upsc-cse/9OA97TFV) to see how I memorised the points spatially – I used the boundaries, not the grid system (although the grid system is equally effective). The unacademy course is not comprehensive, just introductory. I have yet to add more lessons to it (as of 24 July, 2019. If you’re reading this after 26 August, 2019, then the course is complete).
  5. I have also attached a blank map. It is the map that they give in the final exam, with the markings photoshopped out. I found this the most accurate map to practice on. You can take one print out, and then about 50 photocopies. You can also practice on India Physical maps. Please do not practice on India Political maps. 

The notes I have provided below are comprehensive, and they are all I used for my preparation. Thank you for reading, and I hope the article was helpful 🙂  

  1. Palaeolithic:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NSzyyi6P81LT53j9-7P58zL03Nl19RdS&usp=sharing 
  1. Mesolithic:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Kxktbde1s3z7J4YEBSoFwncsz72Ils7f&usp=sharing 
  1. Neolithic: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Y8eenCgyrmzEu39qIrpmrymeS9L8Ae4Z&usp=sharing  (this needs more notes – only places are marked in the map – details of the points can be found in my Neolithic document, which I will be sharing shortly.) 
  2. Chalcolithic: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1oGfGWvUhTXQW7cCNDOjkO6tiL4KfKnDk&usp=sharing 
  3. Harappa: early, middle, late:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1sDNmeKR26VzGXgUEg8HwFCPQyLyJoHQn&usp=sharing 
  4. Megalithic:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1QLNvs5D9XXjLtEf2OWAn4LoVg9Jni2oA&usp=sharing 
  5. Copper Hoards Culture + OCP : https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RrwFRRy6x1Y6fnjxU87WZqahepCdhmY9&usp=sharing 
  6. PGW:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1luPHMj_sQIs7uGh-u98-u_fqIPXqG_MM&usp=sharing 
  7. NBPW (mahajanapadas):  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1B8RedfWSIolshOC3sEHAr8kVOvNz3Xd-&usp=sharing  
  8. Buddhism:
    1. Caves: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Hz0eiiplzmEPWzkq5qlrIKcerhA2kEid&usp=sharing  
    2. Buddha’s life: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1sWpQJRfFQDbGXTYZo-tgVUAP0YT8uXLn&usp=sharing 
    3. Monasteries: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ZQLN7F85YqTN8ia6QsHDP78Dn5pi891D&usp=sharing   
  9. Art sites: 200 BCE – 200 CE :  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1b1YTlHp4bC_z7Tb–8H8V2iUsrEfIXfF&usp=sharing
  10. Ashokan sites: capitals, major edicts, minor edicts, pillars :  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ys1dc-tmnvR6TTfiozjZUHx2qUViaWYt&usp=sharing 
  11. Non-ashokan inscriptional sites:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1V6HIn2DMySvtxuwKM3ogDnLAiwalr6Wj&usp=sharing 
  12. Temples: North:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1oBwW630968l6esrOWwBpzQAj9AlVoZ1s&usp=sharing 
    1. Deccan, South:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1FD7Du8LduHsy7_B-frPmPGdzrVZiJpx1&usp=sharing 
  13. Cave sites: hindu and jain:    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1LbaHtYaGWOn5VzxO__0-GNPY2WCuIbBv&usp=sharing 
  14. Other jain sites :  https://drive.google.com/open?id=130bLO9jIt1-7i9esrMXmnaZfkjg6JJZQ&usp=sharing 
  15. Cultural and educational sites:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1wut_MXI37ZJgnEs0y8OFNL69vlWwU3AL&usp=sharing 
  16. Ancient ports: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1j3Ptpk0vNrKHGTSWlHUn9Vrzebv-siWc&usp=sharing  
  17. Ancient capitals:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1m6H6A5Yfp-aqorQa738IZXKX0GQBW-Eo&usp=sharing 
  18. Medieval cities and Sufis:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qNKzWPaOXXwYm3mYlwhsPN2iOLIWBSP4&usp=sharing 
  19. Silk route:   https://drive.google.com/open?id=1nnJ1jG17v_cd1XR2cXvf8YCPr1xH2zR3&usp=sharing
  20. Early medieval capitals: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tri971UIyxCvbp-JOcnhFJFSvdvIjyiM&usp=sharing  
  21. Forts: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1-f0fS5Q1SYscJ_mnKciMxCNX5XZfPBfg&usp=sharing    
  22. Bhakti saints: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1a7bkkcmdwnicb4ls0CD-vkPSCkKqsIEq&usp=sharing   

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