Episode 4

maps, globes, and plans: census free digital archives
Episode 1
census maps #2
Episode 2
GLOBES, maps digital archives #3
Episode 3
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. University of Minnesota – Umedia Libraries.

This large archive holds 161.000 digital objects; the rich maps collection is about 10.000 documents and includes maps and atlasses of any region & epoch. There is a collection of Chinese and Japanese maps. UM has a 15th Century, Ancient Libya, university of minnesotatwitter account (as well as other social networks) if you want to keep updated on the new projects.

  • Topics and epochs: Any region and era starting from XV century. Especially United States, China, Japan, Asia, Atlantic area, Europe.
  • Amount of sources: 11.752 maps.
  • How to use and download: The catalogue is very easy to browse and it’s also very easy to download the maps via the button (right). However, the max resolution seems to be 1920p: HD but not more.

2. Jagiellonian Digital Library (Poland)

Of the overal 750.000 digital documents of the archive (which aggregates all the University libraries) maps are not too many; yet they are well organized and easily accessible.

  • Topics and epochs: Mittel-european history, East-european history. From IX century on.
  • Amount of sources: 1151 cartographic documents.
  • How to use and download: the catalogue is clear and the classic research criteria allow you to easily find any map. Then you can download the file via the left column. Or you can see the map on the online platform,where you can also add the document to a favorite list or check the metadata.

3. National Library of Scotland

The large collection focuses mostly on Scotland and UK, but there are maps and atlasses of the whole world. The various collection include military, administrative, maritime, geological maps and much more. The NLS also has a twitter account to keep up with all the news and digital projects. 

  • Topics and epochs: UK, Scotland, world; from XVI century on.
  • Amount of sources: unspecified.
  • How to use and download: unfortunately it is not possible to see the whole catalogue at once. However the various categories (left column) allow to clearly browse the documents: when you choose a category you will find all documents  on a world map.

4. American Geographical Society, University of Wisconsin (Stati Uniti).

This archive is explicitly about maps and atlasses. The blog section has news about specific collections and new projects of the Geographical Society. The website also has a part of map georeferencing.

  • Topics and epochs: everything. Global history, American continent, South-East Asia, India, France.
  • Amount of sources: 18.000.
  • How to use and download: the catalogue is clear and simple. Each document can be downloaded in small/medium and “real” (althought not specified) size. Or you can work on the doc with the online platform Mirador.

censimento archivi

5.  Princeton University Library (Stati Uniti).

The Princeton archive is huge, with more than 3.000.000 documents. However the available maps are a bit more than 12.000. They cover all eras and regions, and belong to several kinds of documents – atlasses to insurance maps.

  • Topics and epochs: All. However the oldest documents (IX to XVI century approximately) are not available without a proxy.
  • Amount of sources:12.685.
  • How to use and download: On Geospatial data you can find all the maps directly on the world atlas and then download the Geo-tiff file. From our tests the maps are mainly about climate statistics and geographical data, but there are many other collections to explore. For example the Sanborn collection focuses on New Jersey; via the general catalogue the documents are 12.000, and the list brings you to the repository of each document. From here you can download the PDF map by clicking on the url (purl.fdlp.gov in the picture, as an example).

6. Mapová sbírka přf uk, Charles University (Repubblica Ceca).

Visuale aerea di Vienna

The website includes a large amount of digital maps, plans and extra resources such as a collection of 3D atlasses. From our research we did not get the total amount of documents; however the collections cover the whole Europe for what concerns modern & contemporary history, and probably much more. It’s up to you to explore! 

  • Topics and epochs: not really defined. For sure Europe, modern & contemporary history. 
  • Amount of sources: almost 30.000 documents freely available. 
  • How to use and download: The catalogue is clear and easy to use, however the research criteria are based on metadata rather than maps’ content. You can search by keywords, which is useful but solves the issue only partially: since maps are catalogued in their original language, you have to double-check your spelling. From each document’s page you can download the map by clicking on the button (or one of the various available) on the left column.

7. Brigham Young University (Stati Uniti).

The University archive is entirely available on archive.org. It’s not especially large but has many interesting documents related to the US and North America in general.

  • Topics and epochs: American Continent, North America, United States. From XVII century on.
  • Amount of sources: 400.
  • How to use and download: freely accessible via Archive. You can see each document or download it in various formats according to what’s available.

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.

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