Episode 3

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




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.

2. Biblioteca Nacional Portugal

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. canada

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.

This archive is perfectly organized and it allows to visit all the virtual exhibitions that they organized. Digital collections includes any kind of topic, from Modern Europe to Far East history.   harvard scanned maps

  • 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.

15 thoughts on “Maps, globes, and plans: an ongoing census of free digital archives, #3

  1. Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education at the University of Southern Maine. We have more than 60,000 of our 1/2 million maps digitized and available to the public:

    1. Dear Libby,
      thank you very much for the suggestion, I’m pretty sure we would not have found that archive. It looks very rich, I’ll explore it and put it in the next (or further) episode.
      Please don’t hesitate to let us know about other similar archives (DavidRumsey is already in the waiting list) and to circulate this census among your colleagues.
      Thanks and best regards,

    1. Dear Mrs Bidney,
      thanks a lot for the suggestion! I will put it in a next episode for sure. Feel free to suggest other similar collections and to circulate the census among your colleagues!

    1. Dear Mr Fowler,
      thanks a lot! We put the NYPL collections in the first episode (here), also because I personally worked on a few documents about Francis Lieber there in summer 2018; we are on the look for similar public archives, so if you have other suggestions please feel free to let us know!
      Best (and stay safe),

    1. Dear Mrs Cope,
      thanks a lot for the suggestion! Indeed, thanks to mrs Bidney’s hint I just found out this rich archive and put it on the waiting list for a next episode.
      Feel free to suggest other similar collections and to circulate the census among your colleagues!

      1. Dear Mrs Cope,
        thanks a lot for the suggestion! Indeedm thanks to Mrs Bidney’s hint I already put this rich archive on the waiting list for a next episode. Feel free to suggest other similar collections and to circulate the census among your colleagues!

  2. Czech republic, Prague, Charles University
    Catalogue of the Map Collection contains 62 731 bibliographic records joined to 99 928 units of the documents (as of September 30th, 2019) and is a part of the Central Catalogue of the Charles University.
    Digital map collection – http://www.mapovasbirka.cz/geonetwork
    System is based on metadata catalog GeoNetwork in connection with GeoServer for fast displaying maps in high quality. The portal provides access to 65,000 maps in 28,651 collections.
    The Digital University Repository provides access to digitized maps from the Map Collection. The digital collection comprising 68,227 digitized maps made up of 31,673 digital objects.
    The map portal of the Map Collection provides access to results of TEMAP project. For example descriptive and visual information about the Globe including 3-D models of select items, applications to access digitized maps and atlases of the collection.
    Database of the digitized map collections of the Czech Republic: http://dms.euweb.cz/en/index.html

    1. Dear Mrs Novotna,
      thanks a lot for the suggestion! I looked around for Czech archives but found only Moravská zemská knihovna until now, so many thanks for this. I will survey it and put it in a next episode. Please feel free to suggest other similar collections and to circulate the census among your colleagues!

    1. Dear Mr Whyte, thanks a lot for the suggestion: the archive is indeed rich and easy to browse; I will put it in a next episode. Feel free to circulate our posts among your contacts and to suggest other archives of that kind.

    1. Dear Mr Makhanets,
      thanks a lot for the suggestion: it is a very interesting collection indeed! We will probably put it in a specific episode with other collections – not too large but thematic. Thanks again and feel free to tell us about more archives of this kind.

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