Episode 6

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
census archives maps atlas 5
Episode 5




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).

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 sixth episode of our census of free digital collections and archives of cartographic documents.

1. Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, Maine.

On the Osher website you will find plenty of resources related to maps, for example all the present and past exhibitions, a section about the maps that changed the world (for example the famous eagle-map of the US. Browsing all these resources is very easy; plus, the collection is absolutely rich.

  • Topics and epochs: 350 world atlasses, but the bulk of the collections is about North America. Maps are in several languages other than ENG, especially French.
  • Amount of sources: 26.000+
  • How to use and download: you can find maps on the general catalogue or through an advanced research. By clicking on the document you will open the web browser, while by cliking on the down left button you can download the document. It seems that the only available format is the JPEG in the original resolution.

2. David Rumsey Map collection.

Despite its discreet name, it is one of the most astonishing collections available online, and it has been the inspiring archive for this census project: most of the cover pictures of the census come from this collection. The website is extremely well organized and you can even see an intro video. Rumsey is the Stanford University archive and it hosts about 100.000 documents freely available in various formats. The collections include several categories – atlasses, military and naval maps, urban, electoral, climate documents and so on. But also maps in form of caricature, advertising, and art. It is definitely an intriguing archive to spend hours browsing all the maps. There are also some specific projects, usually focusing on the US: San Francisco urban maps, “Mapping the West” and others. There is also a “georeferencer” to place old maps on google earth. On top of all this there is a blog about news, items added to the archive, specific collection and other institutions’ projects.

  • Topics and epochs: any, from XVI to XXI century, from neighborhood to galaxy.
  • Amount of sources: about 100.000.
  • How to use and download: from the LUNA server you can use the search engine to find specific maps. The 4 general categories (who, when, where, what) or an advanced research. To download a map you can click on “export” (up right) and then choose the resolution, very often up to 12.000pixels. You have to wait a couple of minutes between each dowload.

3. Geographicus Rare maps

A very special collection. It is a map’s trader who put online more than 2.200 documents (and growing) freely available. Of course if you wish the original map you can have it for a few thousand dollars.

  • Topics and epochs: From XV to XIX century, the whole world.
  • Amount of sources: 2.223.
  • How to use and download: unfortunately the Wikicommons page is not really ergonomic, since there are no search engines. You can find out some items through the classic browser research (CTRL+F) or by browsing the catalogue.

4. William J. Clements Library, University of Michigan

From the homepage you can go to the featured collections, which include photos, drawings, manuscripts, aerial views beyond pictures. The database hosts plenty of manuscripts. Maps collections are mostly related to the Revolutionary Era in the United States.

  • Topics and epochs: From XV to XX century, the whole world but especially the American continent.
  • Amount of sources: about 2.000.
  • How to use and download: you can try an advanced research or browse the entire catalogue. Both ways allow you to easily find documents. Then you can download them by right-clicking on the map itself, and choosing the resolution. In the right column there is also the option to put documents in a “portfolio” of favorites.

5. John Carter Brown Library.

This library holds many documents, among them 4.000 maps. At the bottom of the homepage you can find special collections, such as the ones about colonial law and history of Nahuatl. Many other resources are available, for example lectures and workshops dedicated to special topics of cartography. 

  • Topics and epochs: since 1470, but the bulk of the archive is about XVII to XVIII century.
  • Amount of sources: 3575.
  • How to use and download: you can browse the catalogue on the LUNA server – the same of DavidRumsey – or on archive.org. You can look for specific documents thanks to the detailed criteria, and then “export” them in a specific resolution.

6. Carto Mundi, Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme – Aix-en-Provence.

The website is available in French, English and Spanish. Of the 75.000 documents, 6.500 have been digitalized so far. The collection is mostly about modern & contemporary Europe, yet there are maps about other regions of the globe.

  • Topics and epochs: mainly Europe and Mediterranean area.
  • Amount of sources: about 6.500
  • How to use and download: From the homepage menu you can select the continent, the region and the state. Each map is then divided in sheets depending on the size. It does not seem possible to download entire documents, but you can zoom on the maps and then download by right-clicking on it.

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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