maps, globes, and plans: census free digital archives
Episode 1
Episode 2
GLOBES, maps digital archives #3
Episode 3
census free digital archives maps
Episode 4




Mappa di Torino, 1833.
Map of Turin, 1833.


Plans, maps, geographical advertising, globes: these are useful tools in many fields across humanities and social sciences: belonging to Digital Humanities, they can be helpful in military /administration / political / naval / economical history, as well as geopolitics, migration studies, cultural and visual studies, communication & propaganda, anthropology, geography, and many others.

Plus, a nice map can be precious to draw a beautiful poster or improve a paper presentation (we’ve written about that).

Here we propose an ongoing – since these resources are virtually infinite – census of the digital collections and archives whic provide a free access / download to their cartographical documents. Here is the first episode; we stick here to more public institutions.

If you need to organize your archival sources in an efficient way, take a look at our tutorial/review of the free software Tropy. Anyway, let’s go with the archives:

1. National Archives, Washington DC

Washington DC’s national archives are not within the Library of Congress institution. They focus on military and diplomatic history in a global perspective, with a deep focus on the US. Thanks to the large collections the NA organizes virtual exhibitions such as the one on the XIX amendment (women’s suffrage).

  • Topics and epochs: contemporary history, global history, especially the American continent.
  • Amount of sources: about 40.000 documents (maps, atlasses, plans)
  • How to use and download: the catalogue is easily accessible and the search engine well conceived: when you find a document you can click on the blue button to download the image. It seems not possible to choose the quality or size of the doc, but all maps are in high-res.

2. A few collections from Catalunya.

a. Collections Martí Gelabertó and Guerra Civile by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • Topics and epochs: mainly XVII and XVIII century
  • Amount of sources: about 200 (Martì Gelabertò), 83 (Civil War)
  • How to use and download: from either catalogue (Martì Gelabertò, Civil War)
  • you can save documents “manually” – meaning by right-clicking on the picture itself.
b. Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya

This large archive includes maps and atlasses but also aerial photographies, panoramas and other documents related to cartography in general. The whole collection is about 75.000 documents freely available.

  • Topics and epochs: Modern and contemporary history; Catalunya
  • Amount of sources: 75.000 (the whole collection). 12.000 (maps and atlasses).
  • How to use and download: from the catalogue you can look for a document and then download it via the button up on the left.
c- Memòria Digital de Catalunyacatalunya map archive

This project is an aggregator of multimedia collections, and includes many minor collections such as the ones from the University of Barcelona or the Polytechnic of Catalunya, as well as many museums’ libraries. From the home page you can find the “mapes” icons (they are in alphabetical order) to open the specific collections, and then browse each one’s catalogue.

3. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Yes, the website is also in english. You can change language by clicking on the button up right . Yet the names of documents follow the German spelling, so watch out. The collection is not particularly rich but very well organized.

  • Topics and epochs: all.
  • Amount of sources: about 500.
  • How to use and download: when you find your document in the catalogue you can download it (in various formats) via the button up left. if you don’t need the document, the online reader is particularly effective.

4. World Digital Library (UNESCO).

In these weeks the WLD made itself known because it has opened its archives for free as a response to the COVID pandemics, as did many other institutions

  • Topics and epochs: Global history, all eras.
  • Amount of sources: about 1.000 documents.
  • How to use and download: you can browse the catalogue as a list or as a world map; when you find a document you can click on download (in the left column) and choose the right option between PNG and PDF.

5. New York Public Library

Topics and epochs: Modern and contemporary history, mainly but not only American. A lot of administration, insurance and urban documents. Also a large collection of railroad maps.

  • Amount of sources: a bit more than 25.000 documents. Not all are available online, since a few of them have not yet been digitalized; but from our trials it seems they are a minority.
  • How to use and download: from the catalogue and the document you can download various version of each file, including a printed version (this one not for free, though!).
  • Extra: the map warper blends old maps with google maps in order to match them completely. To use it you must register, and it works with a few

6. Boston Public Lybrary

This wide archive of the Digital Commonwealth – Massachusetts Collections online includes (among many other documents) also more than 16.000 maps and atlasses.

  • Topics and epochs: Modern and contemporary history, especially American and Transatlantic.
  • Amount of sources: a bit more than 16.000 documents.
  • How to use and download: find your document in the catalogue; you can then download it in various formats, usually a high-res TIF, a high-res JPEG and a lower quality JPEG.

Call for participation:

Since these digital archives about cartography and maps are astonishingly numerous and some of them belong to narrow niches, we cannot know about all of them: please tell us if you know a collection, so that we can put it in the next episode.

4 thoughts on “Maps, globes, and plans: an ongoing census of free digital archives, #2

    1. Dear Nick,
      thanks for the hint, the archive looks very rich indeed! We’ll put it in a next episode for sure.

    1. Dear Kat,
      thanks a lot! They both seem very rich, we will put them in a next episode.

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