There is no index to the images of individual early maps on the web. It is likely that there are now (December 2007)
several hundred thousand early map images. The accompanying listing deals with sites, not single images. So, how can you find
what is out there? Probably, you want maps of a particular part of the world. For that reason, the listing is arranged
geographically. As you would expect, a collection based in an area is likely to be strong on maps of that area. However,
confusingly, a number of sites range more widely. Always check out those in the 'General and
Miscellaneous' section, and try those in the broader region that contains the area you are really interested in: United States
or North America, for example, when you want a particular state. Equally, early maps tended to cover a wide area, so those who
mount 17th century maps of their country or state will often put up maps of a much wider region.
Some sites go
beyond this 'Map History' site in the detail they provide for a given area, even sometimes including
links to separate images. The best way to retrieve those would be to search the individual
pages of the Images section for gateway and links.
Alternatives to geography might be:
Period - the best arrangement by epochs (Medieval,
Renaissance, etc.) is Jim
Siebold's site, though the images are of low resolution
Person responsible - you might find a
cartographer/author/publisher via a search engine or by searching a
particular image site. The Library of Congress's very extensive
'American Memory' site includes a Creator
index, and some of the Larger map
dealer sites offer a search by mapmaker or publisher
Subject - see the Themes section of the listing.
Or, search for 'railroad', or some other subject term
The following categories have been systematically excluded:-
'Historical' maps and atlases - in the more correct use
of the term, i.e. as reconstructions (usually modern) of past
situations. Some web pages entitled, 'Historical maps of...', actually
feature original early maps and have therefore been included. For
historical maps, see the links available from the relevant section of 'Related Subjects'
Single images - or indeed sites with (usually) three or
less maps - are excluded unless they are good images of significant
maps. Some single maps are cited in other listings see Main listings sites
Poor quality images - small images that do not
enlarge sufficiently or those of very low resolution have been left out,
since there is really no point in accessing them
'Modern' mapping. The listing is largely of pre-1900
material, with a formal cut-off at World War II
Overlap with the 'Web Articles' page - this is
intentional in the case of illustrated texts. However some sites,
including exhibitions (prefixed with +), are more textual than visual.
In those cases they are included only on the Web Articles pages, which should be
Map dealer sites. Only the larger sites (with at least 100
images) are included. It is as well to remember that you are more likely
to find printed maps from the 16th century onwards on commercial
sites than on a library web-page, though do not expect high resolution
images. See the Larger map
Facsimiles. For facsimiles of maps in printed form
see under Map Collections
Most images appear on your screen, along with the text, without your having to do anything
special. What you may see at first is a small 'thumbnail'. In these cases, it is always a good
idea to try clicking on the image (or, occasionally, on a text link or magnifying glass
nearby). If this is going to be possible, place your mouse cursor over the image - or over
where it will be emerging - and it will appear as a pointing hand rather than an arrow.
That is a sure indication that this is a link to a larger version of the image. You do not
have to wait for the first version to appear before starting to load the larger version.
Sometimes you can enlarge several times. Alternatively, if you right click with your
mouse you may be offered a 'zoom in' option.
The larger images may be 'scrollable' and, occasionally, 'zoomable'.
Many original maps are larger than a computer screen. The most helpful
sites - or those that can find the resources of time and money for this
expensive operation - enlarge the map image well beyond its original
size. You can then scroll (or pan), up/down or sideways, until the part
you want is in view.
That is a way of treating an entire map as one large image. Another method is to invite the
user to click on the section of interest and then zoom into that detail at an enlarged scale.
Among the more popular programs to achieve this are JPEG2000, MrSID, Insight and Zoomify. These allow
you, simultaneously, to enlarge an image and zoom into a detail, see for example the Library of
Congress 'American Memory' site and David Rumsey's Collection online. For details about those
two sites see under Large general sites. For information about
the programs mentioned see Software requirements.
The following sites have been ransacked (with grateful acknowledgement) for
their relevant links. The PCL site includes some single image sites, as well as many 'historical'
maps (i.e. modern reconstructions). Neither of those types has been included in this listing:-
'WAML Scanning Projects
Clearinghouse' ('an effort to create a union list of WAML’s digitization projects... and
avoid duplication of efforts'; most relating to the USA - Western Association of
Maps' (a large list of links to images of original and historical maps, arranged by
broad geographical region; with an alternative arrangement in a single alphabet -
'Edfiles Social Studies made for teachers by a teacher')
links to image sites, arranged geographically
Because of the value of historical place-names to genealogists - and
the lack of any systematic indexing of these - early maps are being
increasingly mounted on sites aimed at family historians. On that, see Family history: maps and place-names
At the time of writing (February 2001) search engines, which are now
sophisticated in retrieving text, are disappointingly imprecise in
locating images. This is likely to be because databases, used to
organise most image sites, are not indexed by search engines. Of the four I
use, two offer specific image options. Altavista has two routes, which seem
to produce the same results (1) Search Tools: Image Search, (2)
Media/Topic Search: 'Search in': Images. Ixquick offers a 'Pictures' option.
These retrieve small numbers of relevant thumbnail images, but they are
rarely for antiquarian material.
Entering into Altavista, Ixquick, Google's Image search or
All the Web (Fast Search) a formula such as:
+map +[place/area name]is likely to produce vast numbers of hits.
Refining this with added terms - perhaps +century, to pick up
imprecise descriptions such as "[18th] century", or +gif (or
+jpg), as a guess at its likely format - will only help a little.
The quality of hits using the formula +map +[area] +century was
higher on Google than on the other three.
It is suggested (March 2007) that OAIster ('a union catalog of digital resources') can provide good
access for digital images.
For general comments about searching for images see:-
The comments about image 'resolution', given in the brief description to
each entry in the listing, refer to the appearance of the map. They are
not intended to be understood as technical observations, for example
about 'dots [or pixels] per inch' (dpi), or the way the image was scanned
'High resolution' is used to indicate map images whose place-names - even the small ones - are
easily readable. This seems to me the most important consideration. It may be
possible to read some of the place-names on 'medium' resolution images. Unfortunately, many of
the images mounted on the web are of low resolution so that, even when the map fills the
screen (and sometimes when a zoom option is available), details are blurred and the place-names
illegible. This particularly applies to pdf images. Low resolution images give a general idea of the map's appearance but are of no use
for serious study, whether you are a scholar or someone researching your family history. You
need to be aware that image quality will also depend on the speed and age of your computer. It
may be that the images appear to you better or worse than they do to me. However, 'high res.'
should always appear clearer than 'medium res.'
It is easier to provide a high resolution image of a 'miniature' map
(where several originals could fit onto a single computer screen) than of
a standard map that will be larger (sometimes very much larger)
than the screen. For that reason you will find a lot of miniature maps
on dealer sites!
There is often a balance between image quality, the time taken to download the map, and the
cost of storage space. You should not expect a clear image, occupying, perhaps, twice the size
of your screen, to be delivered instantaneously. Even if most people will not wait more than
30 seconds for a page to load, you may have to be the exception. However, some relatively poor
quality images are slow to load, although it must be pointed out that loading speed can vary
for a number of reasons. It is also possible that some of those sites I have described as
'slow-loading' will have improved their delivery by the time you go to the site. At the other
extreme, the best sites offer fast-loading, high quality images (see under Software requirements).
To search in the listing for high quality, press Ctrl+F
and enter: high res. If you want speed, enter: fast-loading. To find those
that have both virtues, enter: fast-loading, high res. Alternatively, search for
JPEG2000, MrSID, Insight, Zoomify etc..
It is generally accepted that 300 dpi (dots per inch) is the minimum
resolution for acceptable image capture - from the original - of
the full version of a map. Those on the Project Pont site, for
example, are delivered at 400-700 dpi and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's Historical Map
and Chart Collection at 800 dpi. Scanning from a slide or microfilm,
like those in the Hargrett
Library's Rare Map Collection at the University of Georgia, which
were 'scanned from microfilm negatives at 2400 dpi', does not necessarily
lead to clear images, unless the originals were unusually small.
In some cases, a lower resolution version might have been intentionally
mounted on the web, for example for copyright reasons. The development,
and widespread use, of effective digital 'watermarking' may solve this
It needs to be remembered that when maps are scanned at 300 dpi, this is several times the
resolution of a normal PC monitor (about 72 dpi). Viewing an image at 100% or 1:1 will usually
mean that what you are seeing is about four times larger than the original! This is why, to
achieve full legibility, most maps need to be enlaged well past their original size.
sizes may vary enormously. They can be expressed in pixel (or 'Window') size (e.g. 640 x 480)
or in bytes. The file size might range from 50 Kb for a small, low resolution image, to an
average 150 Mb (over 150,000 Kb) for those on the David Rumsey site, rising to two gigabytes
(over 2 million Kb) for the largest files on that site. The use of MrSID software (as part of
'Insight') ensures that these large files can be delivered speedily, because they may have been
compressed down to as little as 3% for delivery. JPEG2000 is an open source compression
technology. On JPEG2000 see notes by the Library of Congress.
Images will usually have the extension .gif or .jpg.
GIF (literally 'Graphic Interchange Format') is a 'lossless' format
JPEG (literally 'Joint Photographic Experts Group') produces a higher
quality image, in a 'lossy' compressed format that will usually take
longer to load than the equivalent GIF
There is an excellent technical summary (including a list of metadata standards), unfortunately not online and difficult to track down:
Chris Fleet, 'Seeing the world in pixels: practical essentials for successful map digitisation
projects', Cartographiti: the newsletter of the Map Curators' Group of the British
Cartographic Society, 74 (June 2005): 6-14.
Some sites require you to download
viewing software, if you do not already have it stored on your PC. This is usually available free of
charge, though you may need to buy software if you are going to create images. You can find general
information about this, and particularly on MrSID and FlashPix, in David Yehling Allen's 1998 article, 'Creating and Distributing High Resolution Cartographic Images'. Some of these programs work
on the principle of partial delivery, saving bandwith and, simultaneously, protecting the image owner from
having an entire image removed for reuse. See also Creating map images . For more
specific information about the software you may encounter, see the following:-
Acrobat, which can be freely downloaded. This recreates the fixity of the printed
page (text or image) in a digital environment that is usually flexible
Insight (Java client
software). David Rumsey is philanthropically mounting thousands of maps from his private
collection for free viewing on the web. More than that, he is
distributing, without charge, Insight, a viewer program that can be used in a browser form or
as a downloadable Java client. Insight supports JPEG, GIF and other image formats. This
enables the delivery of better images and higher quality printouts. You will, though, need to
set aside 20-30 minutes to download the software (assuming you have a standard 56K modem), if
you choose that route rather than simply using your browser. For further information, see his
explanatory page, 'About the
Java Plug-in - a
generic term for a variety of software
JPEG2000 (Image Web Server ECW JPEG 2000) is a compressor and viewer.
Increasingly, this is being used for map sites as the main rival compression format to MrSID
MrSID software compresses a file dramatically (sometimes reducing it to as little as
3%). It also achieves speed of delivery by splitting up the image and providing no more data
at one time than can be seen on the screen. For further details, see LizardTech's Mr SID viewing
software, as well as
Mr SID Help (from the Library of Congress 'American Memory' project)
OldMapsOnline.org (a free software for
online publishing of scanned documents in
JPEG2000 or TIFF formats (2009))
It is, in principle, possible to download images from two different sites
and then compare them.
It is also worth remembering, if
you find that the image occupies part of the screen [a frame], that you
can use your right mouse button to 'open in a new window' and thus
enlarge the map to fill the screen.
On this, see the explanatory page, 'Citing
Electronic Sources' (part of the Library of Congress 'American
Memory' site). This has examples of two different citation formats, and
a list of links to other relevant sites.
Creating map images (helpful texts) and digital
If you are planning to create images yourself, various
guides are available:
Digitization, see the articles in the quarterly online journal e-Perimetron
The Survey of Library & Museum Digitization Projects (detailed data about the
management and development of a broad range of library special collection and museum
digitization projects, from about 100 institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia,
Italy, the UK and other countries - a charged annually updated publication from Primary Research Group)
'The Great Wall Map Revealed' by Richard Oram, describing the technical difficulties in
reproducing the Joan Blaeu wall-map of 1648 [300 x 204 cm, nearly 10 x 7 feet] in the Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 30 April 2013 - for the image see here
'Old Maps Online: Sites'
('OldMapsOnline.org is a research project which aims to develop software to assist in the management,
manipulation and visualisation of historical map collections on the web' - see for tutorials)
'Digitization and analytical
bibliography' (illustrated pdf article by Gérard Bouvin & Wouter Bracke, in: e-Perimetron, 3:2 (2008),
pp. 77-85, stressing the importance of capturing the document's physical details, as well as the map
digital projects: a management tool for preservation and access',
edited by Maxine K. Sitts (Northeast Document Conservation Center,
Andover, Massachusetts, 2000) [a searchable online book, by
various experts, comprising: 1. Introduction, 2. Overview: rationale for
digitization and preservation, 3. Considerations for project
management, 4. Selection of materials for scanning, 5. Overview of
copyright issues, 6. Technical primer, 7. Developing best practices:
guidelines from case studies, 8. Vendor relations, 9. Digital longevity,
10. Scholar commentary: an end-user speaks up. You can be notified by
email when a page changes]
Text' (Articles & Papers, Companies, Example Projects, Reference,
Resources, Tools - from Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE)
MapHist list for July 2006 - see the threads, 'use of digital images for
research' and 'watermark', for a discussion of the reasons why researchers might need to
see an original, and the value of scans as surrogates for such originals
Preserving Access to Digital
Information (PADI) (again from the National Library of Australia,
this time 'a subject gateway to digital preservation resources',
including sections on 'data documentation and standards', 'formats and
media', 'digitisation' etc.)
'Overview of Legal Issues
for Digitization' by Melissa Smith Levine (Legal Advisor, National
Library Project, Library of Congress), Chapter V in Handbook for
Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access
The experience of examining thousands of map image sites [those in the
listing and a considerable number that were rejected] has made me aware
of their variety, and the great range in terms of quality and
usefulness. Since you are unlikely to repeat this exercise, I offer some
thoughts and suggestions prompted by it.
The most effective sites are those with a clear purpose: perhaps a
selection of maps of a particular region (which is the way that this listing
has been organised) or those concentrating on a single subject (see Themes). Often, however, the
motive seems to be 'window-dressing' - an attempt to show a few, random
samples. Many of the sites listed under Medium and small general sites
are like that - and hence unclassifiable. Please seriously consider a
In determining the purpose of web-mounted map images, deciding on image
quality is as important as the selection of maps that are going to be
scanned. Why are you offering these maps to the world? What do you think
the viewers should/could/will do with them? If they are meant to permit
people, anywhere, the same type of access as you (assuming you are an
institution) offer to those who handle your originals, then you need to
take a route that ensures sufficiently high quality to allow every
single place-name to be read. Anything less and these are not true
surrogates. It would be helpful if, in the context of digitisation, each
map was treated as if it was a text,
rather than just an image, and as a text that employs unusually small type
faces. The capital letters of Times New Roman, for example, stand 2.5 mm
high in Word size 11 (a standard reading size), yet the names on early maps
can go down to 1.5 mm
or even to 1.0 mm. This is far smaller than would ever be used in a
connected text. Yet it is precisely those names - the lowest
in the hierarchy - that are likely to be searched for, not the names of
large towns or regions. For this reason some sites link the images to
lists of place-names [search 'Images of early
maps' for 'gazetteer' or 'place-names'].
Alternatively, if you use one of the high quality programs,
you may be opening up new, and exciting, possibilities [see
'Innovative sites' for examples] allowing maps to be viewed clearly at a larger size than
the original, and compared side-by- side on a single screen with another example from a
different collection. Why not search the listing [Ctrl+F] for fast-loading, high res.
sites and see how they have done it?
Even when somebody has found your site, their problems may not be over.
Because so many web designers seem to forget about the site's users,
navigating within a site can be like finding your way in a maze. There
is often no apparent structure to the various pages. And that, of
course, assumes the viewer has managed to see the pages at all. Some
more interested in clever graphics than in speed of loading. People who
seek maps have little or no interest in where they are stored
(physically or in web space). When the images are scattered, could there
not be a single index [i.e. a list of hyperlinks] to all the
web-based maps in that institution? If you are a map librarian or
curator please try and persuade your 'Webmaster' of this. It is unlikely
that anybody else will!
Please consider providing one or more indexes, if you are involved in a
larger image site (say, with over 100 images). The very Large general sites already do
this. The problem is that individual maps are hard to find on the web
(see Search engines).
The question of cataloguing standards appropriate for digital map images, and the resources that might or might not be available for that,
are too big to be dealt with here. But for map scans to serve their full useful purpose it is clearly essential that they are accurately
described. Since maps tend to have been copied from earlier models, a common mistake is to assume that the date of publication is the same
as the date of the information. For a good, individual example of this see a message from Peter van der Krogt to the MapHist list (13 January 2007).
In many cases, loading map images onto the web is seen as an end
in itself. Some sites, however, provide 'added value', in various ways
that might serve as models to others. For more information on these sites see the appropriate geographical page in the Web Images section
Comprehensive research site, see, for example, the National Library of
Scotland's marvellous Timothy Pont site.
This describes the mapping of Scotland in the late 16th century by integrating essays on over 20
different aspects of the maps and their makers with very high resolution images of the entire
corpus of 77 maps, whose relevant details can be enlarged to many times the size of the
original. The topics available via 'What the maps tells us' give an idea of the site's range:
"Revealing Scotland's mountains, Timothy Pont's portrayal of towns, the architecture of
Scotland, Scottish woodlands, and Place-names". Help is also provided with handwriting and
symbols and there are selected details for those who want to browse. To that was added, in 2004,
the equally impressive
Blaeu atlas of Scotland site - a mixture of very high resolution images of the maps and
texts (with translations into English and a comprehensive place-name index) and background
essays. The result is an essential and wholly new resource for Scottish historians.
that note (in February 2013) it is worth recording how much has been done in the intervening
years to enlarge and enhance the NLS site,
now including almost 50,000 high resolution images, among them comprehensive Ordnance Survey
coverage for Scotland. The three salient features persist: clear organisation; informed
commentary; and navigation that puts the user first, with good search options and a new 'Explore
Georeferenced Maps' option. I hope many of its features will be imitated by others.
Also from Scotland, 'A
history of Orkney maps' by John K. Chesters constitutes a research site with an original
methodology, using overlays and error diagrams to arrive at a map lineage. From this it
concludes that "the development of the cartography of Orkney has not been a smooth progression
through time but has depended on a relatively few surveys and their associated advances in
surveying techniques". The 'Methods' section (follow the 'Next' button) is the equivalent of an
Melanie Lovell-Smith's 'Early Mapping', in Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand should be
followed by others as an example of how to build a clearly laid out, helpfully interconnected
and thoroughly researched site covering a wide range of related topics. For further comments
see Web Articles: 11. Australia and Oceania.
The site investigating the 12-sheet Nolli map of Rome (1748)
provides a Flash-based, high resolution, interactive version, which analyses and indexes 1,320 features and allows you to select
and zoom into them, see the Preface.
There are three sites by Jean and Martin Norgate full of imaginative ideas. The first
'Old Hampshire mapped', in which each of 24 maps has been made the subject of a detailed,
comparative investigation into its history and content, and the results presented in the form
of text, close-up images, etc. Because details of each map have been captured using a uniform
grid system, it is easy to pull up the same area on different maps (at the same apparent
scale) or to jump to the appropriate map area from a gazetteer name link. Under 'Topics' you
will find extensive comparative notes on a wide range of cartographic features. For fuller
explanation see their Project Note, and J. & M. Norgate, 'Old Hampshire Mapped', Cartographic
Journal 41:1 (2004), pp.47-53. Also look at the Sussex site, created by Dominic Fontana on the same (if simplified) model. The
second is the Norgate's interactive facsimile of Edmund Dummer and Thomas Wiltshaw's South Coast Harbours 1698. This
is similarly rich in its functionality and treats, for example, some key letters on the charts
as hotspots with ALT text explanation. Finally, see Martin Norgate's Checklist of Hampshire Maps -
again another complex site, demonstrating further imaginative functionality. For further
information on all three Norgate sites see the descriptions on the Web
Images: British Isles page, under 'England - Hampshire'.
Access & comparison, as demonstrated by the London maps on the fast-loading
MOTCO site, which provides direct access from place-name indexes and then invites you to compare equivalent (high res.) sections from
two or three maps. The London School of Economics & Political Science site Charles Booth
and the survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903) automatically pairs the relevant section of the 2000 Bartholomew map for
comparison as you move about the Booth map. Akira Kamimura’s site, devoted to manuscript maps of Mongolia, places a grid over each image as a reference point for an index of features.
Overlaying of information from different periods, as, for example, on David Rumsey's
Two Dimensional GIS Browser. This
offers a 'QuadView' feature that can be used for direct comparison between four
equivalent maps. As applied to selected US cities, 'the current geospatial data that can be
overlaid and compared to the historical maps includes roads, lakes, parks, state boundaries,
digital orthophotos (aerial photography), topographic mapsheets, digital elevation models and
satellite imagery.' For information on the Rumsey site, and a number of articles by and about
him, see the entry on the David Rumsey Collection on Large
Hotspots. Passing the cursor over the JPG versions of the images in the North Hampshire Tithe Map Project
brings up the associated owner/occupier and survey details. This device is also used
effectively in the examination of Visscher's map of New England
Guide for a specified area. The
'Online Guide to Early Map Images of the Caribbean', from the Research Institute for the
Study of Man (New York), is a review of map image sites from the point of view of those
interested in a specific area. It could with advantage be imitated for other areas. It lists,
comments on, and partially itemises relevant material, provided it is offered in high resolution and available
for downloading. [Other 'gateway' sites, in the sense of simple lists of links for images of a
given area, can be found by searching for 'gateway' on the relevant page in the Images section.]
The archive of the MapHist
list will show that, over the past few
years, there has been much discussion about the need to index map images
on the web. The ideal would, of course, be to catalogue each image
fully. But, to find what a person wants, an index is usually sufficient.
This listing - the first systematic
attempt to record all significant early map image sites - could be used
as the first stage in that cataloguing or indexing process, by anyone
to attempt the task. [They would be assured of 'Hero of the Web' status
is they succeeded!]. It might be thought that the only images worth
indexing would be the high resolution ones. [To find these on the
listing, search [Ctrl+F] for: high res.]. Some of the largest such sites -
like the Library of Congress 'American
Memory', NOAA's 'Historical
Map and Chart Collection' and David Rumsey's private collection -
have their own indexes. The problem is that you cannot search,
simultaneously, across all of them. Nor can you search, at all - by
area, cartographer, date, etc. - for single images mounted on the other
high resolution sites.
you mount early map images for the first time, or include a group of new
ones, please notify me or send a message to the MapHist list. You do not
need to be a subscriber to do this. For details, see the MapHist page on this site. Please also
make a point of notifying me if the URL changes, especially if no
forwarding message is left!
Please send amendments to the compiler Tony Campbell:
Will these images be available in ten years' time? Who is
thinking and planning about long-term storage?
Thanks are due to various experts for their tutorials.
Only the compiler can be blamed
for what he has failed to understand -