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.
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. Polona (Poland)
This platform includes many Polish institutions and the collections are really easy to browse despite the lack of translation.
- Topics and epochs: any.
- Amount of sources: more than 15.000 documents.
- How to use and download: the website is almost completely in Polish, except a few pages (FAQ). Therefore you have to make some attempts to explore the catalogue, however the research is very clear and intuitive. From the catalogue you can directly download any document without even opening it, just by clicking on the arrow below the preview. If you open the document, the versatile online viewer starts.
Of the 7.000 documents of this cartographic archive, we didn’t find out how many are digitalized exacly. We’d say around 2.000. The collection includes a few rare documents.
- Topics and epochs: Atlantic and Colonial history, Europe, American continent; starting from XVI century.
- Amount of sources: unknown, probably around 2.000 maps.
- How to use and download: the research is not intuitive, since it’s impossible to simply browse the Complete catalogue; you have to launch a search with at least 1 letter. Then it’s pretty easy to download a document.
3. Library and archives of Canada.
The catalogue is clean and simple to use, but rather confusing when it comes to the distribution of the various collections. It seems that the cartographic material belongs to the National Archives, but it’s possible that other minor collections belong to other institutions.
- Topics and epochs: starting from 1490, but the bulk of the collection goes from 1750 to 2000.
- Amount of sources: a but more than 10.000 items.
- How to use and download: when you’re on the catalogue (pretty clear, even though the preview of the items doesn’t help to have a bird’s view) you can open a document and click on “download a copy” or”printable version”. It seems not possible to choose its size or quality.
4. KBR – Royal Belgian Library or Albertine Library.
These Royal archives hold 30.000 items, and more than 8.000 are freely available in the digital collection.
- Topics and epochs: starting from XVIII century, global history.
- Amount of sources: more than 8.000 items.
- How to use and download: to download a map you can browse the catalogue, open the document and download it in PDF format.
5. Berkeley and Bancroft library, California.
THese two libraries hold 6.000 documents taken together. We underscore a rich collection ofjapanese maps (of the whole world). More generally these archives focus on the American continent and the Pacific region. The Bancroft collection is smaller but extremely well organized, with 46 different collections.
- Topics and epochs: mainly Pacific history and American Continent; but more broadly global history.
- Amount of sources: roughly 6.000 documents (the two archives)
- How to use and download: both the catalogues of the Berkeley library and the Bancroft library are easy to use thanks to the clear criteria: publication date, type of document, area, collection, and so on. From the Berkeley catalogue you can download a map via the button down left, and you can choose among different formats/quality. The Bancroft catalogue works like an aggregator, so it will open the window of the various institutions holding the specific item; it seems always easy to download these documents as well.
6. Harvard digital collection.
- Topics and epochs: Starting from XVII century; American History, Far East, Great Britain.
- Amount of sources: 2759 items.
- How to use and download: The “scanned maps” catalogue is easy to browse thanks to the various criteria. Each document can be downloaded in different formats.
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.