Maps are useful historical documents, as the world is constantly changing. A map depicts what an area looked like at a given time as roads and buildings come and go and geographical locations evolve. The David Rumsey Map Collection contains rare 16th-21st century maps of North and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. These maps range from atlases and globes to pocket maps, maritime charts, and books of exploration. Currently, in the David Rumsey Map Collection, there are over 107,000 items with extensive cataloging that are freely available to the public. Here are just a few maps that can be found within the collection.
Ah, Paris! The city of lights. From 1911, this is a hand-drawn tourist map of Paris monumental et métropolitain (Monuments and metropolitan of Paris) by Robelin in Montrouge. This lithograph in color pocket map “is decorated with a multitude of vignettes showing emblematic monuments of Paris as well as the Metropolitan network.” See the sights like the Le Triomphe de la République and the Château de Bagatelle. From this map, look at how the Paris metropolitan network has changed in the last 110 years.
Hear the word “map” and we immediately think of an image that depicts roads and town, areas of water, mountains, and other geographical locations. However, a map can also be used to depict celestial items such as stars, planets, and galaxies. Another item in the David Rumsey Map Collection is this celestial chart, the Region elementaire ou sublunaire qui (Elementary or sublunar region) published by Gregoire Mariette in 1696. Originally published in Italian by Antonino Saliba in 1582, this hand-colored “map of the cosmos integrated ancient Pagan and medieval Christian cosmology with Renaissance beliefs and experiences.” Looking at the illustrations, can you find the phoenixes and salamanders?
Compare a photograph of a town 30 years ago to what the town looks like now. It is amazing how some streets will have changed completely while others will look untouched. The Street View of 1940s New York is an interactive map allowing users to explore the streets of New York City and explore the more than 4 million buildings that existed from 1939 – 1941 within its five boroughs. As part of a collaboration between the Works Progress Administration and the NYC Tax Department, this project captured the history of a city that is constantly changing.
Here are some other freely available map resources. Mapping History Project provides users an interactive and animated “representation of fundamental historical problems and illustrations of historical events, developments, and dynamics.” Search through Americana and Cartographic treasures with the Library of Congress Map Collection 4.5 million geographical and map items. Wonder which library has a particular map? Both Old Maps Online and Historic Map Works are online historic map databases. Old Maps Online provides access to more than 250,000 online digital historical maps from the 15th-20th century in libraries from around the world. Historic Map Works allow users to search through American Atlases, Nautical Charts, Birdseye Views, and Special Collections (Celestial Maps, Portraits, and other historical images).
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