Episode 5

maps, globes, and plans: census free digital archives
Episode 1
census maps #2
Episode 2
GLOBES, maps digital archives #3
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. National Library of Australia.

An extremely rich archive, with about 40.000 digital cartographic documents. Cadastral, geological, military maps and 300 pre-1800 atlasses. The main areas covered are the Pacific and South-East Asia. Moreover the NLA website hosts a wide range of resources: exhibits, thematic collections, online classes about how to manage digital resources, and a section dedicated to podcasts.


  • Topics and epochs: starting from 1493. Especially Pacific, South-East Asia. Many documents about other regions.
  • Amount of sources: 38.393 maps.
  • How to use and download: The catalogue is absolutely easy to browse and the criteria allow you to easily find what you look for. Then from a map’s page you can click on  “online version” to open the online browser. From there you just have to download the file (left column) in the available formats (usually JPEG, PDF and TIF) or check the metadata, extract the metadata for citations or the copyright restrictions.

2. Internet Culturale (Italy).

This is a project by ICCU – Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico delle Biblioteche Italiane e per le Informazioni Bibliografiche, and it includes many digital collections – not only maps and atlasses – of several libraries. You can also “upload” your own catalogue following the tutorials. It’s an ongoing project, however it already holds a lot of material.

  • Topics and epochs: starting from 1.500, yet the archive focusses on 1600-1800. The whole world is covered. Italy is extremely well represented, with many local maps; about 9.000 documents are in French (modern or medium), a few thousands in greek or latin, and several hundreds in Dutch.
  • Amount of sources: 31.000 digital maps.
  • How to use and download: the catalogue is clear and clean, and from the left column you can easily browse the documents. Every document is available on the online browser, which allows you to elaborate the map. You can then download the file (up right) by checking the copyright disclaimer. The format depends on what’s available for each file, but you can select a specific portion of a map to download. If you download a PDF and you need to convert it in JPG, DOC or other formats, you might read our article about that!

3. National Library, New Zealand.

The NL website is quite rich, and we suggest to take a tour of the various sections. There is an interesting part of exhibits, e.g. one called “He Tohu” about constitutional documents of the nation. Also, the NL goes with DigitalNZ portal, an aggregator rather similar to Catalunya’s Memòria. Here you will find several collections from external institutions.

NL collections are (like the Australian NL listed before) mostly about the Pacific region, with several types of items: urban maps, topographic maps, aerial photographies, census, military and weather maps; as well as many documents related to Maori history and culture.

  • Topics and epochs: all, especially the Pacific area.
  • Amount of sources: 17.500 digital maps.
  • How to use and download: from the catalogue you can access the maps and download them in the different formats available for each document. It’s not always easy to find the right file, and sometimes you need to explore the various links in the description.

4. Oldmapsonline

A project dated 2013 in Portsmouth, UK. The website is an aggregator of more than 400.000 maps, but the structure is not as easy to navigate as other archives. The project looks inactive since 2016, however all the documents are still available.

  • Topics and epochs: all
  • Amount of sources: more than 400.000
  • How to use and download: The search engine is directly on the world map. When you select time and place the available maps will appear on the screen (on the right). These maps can be open in  overlayover google maps, like a sort of Georeferencing. You can also go the original source of the document, since Oldmapsonline is an aggregator. And then you can download the map from the original archive. 
  • Extra: There is also the Mobile version, both for Android and Apple.

5. MAPSTER, Pologne.

As the name suggets, the website has a vintage zest. Yet the collection is rich and well organized, if not very ergonomic to browse. Allied maps from the WWII are particulary numerous. The website is available in Polish, English and German.

  • Topics and epochs: The collections cover mostly Europe and West Asia, and XIX – XX century.
  • Amount of sources: 63814 maps.
  • How to use and download: from the “map lists” you cann access the list of all documents by region. From Poland you can go to Central Europe and West Europe; Russia and Balkans. On the right column the number indicates the number of maps of belonging to each collection. By clicking on “list” in the far right column you access the single page of the document, and you can download it – even in very high quality. It is also possible to look for documents via a traditional word search, yet the “map lists” seems the most effective method. 

6. Illinois University Library

This archive hosts many interesting collections with more than 220.000 documents: plans, maps, drawings, urban projects, aerial photographies, and atlasses. Here you can browse the thematic collections.

  • Topics and epochs: the whole world. The archive seems to focus on modern & contemporary history.
  • Amount of sources: more than 220.000 digital documents freely available.
  • How to use and download: the general catalogue is very easy to browse, and the download part is especially useful: you can download each file in various formats and sizes (from JPEG2000 to TIF, including PDF, PNG and sometimes others) by clicking on the green download button.

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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