This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in July 2012.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection consists of over 150,000 maps, focusing on 18th and 19th century North and South America and including atlases, globes, maritime charts and other materials.  Of those 150,000 items, about 32,000 of the maps have been digitized for public viewing.

Just last week, 1,828 new maps were added to the online collection, including early edition Yosemite Guidebooks, 216 Maps and Images from Pocket Maps, and an 1837 “Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind.”  The variety of maps and images is huge – it’s almost overwhelming.  Fortunately, they have been arranged in number of categories and are easy to search.

Search categories are arranged as What, Where, Who and When.  Users may click on a particular category to start.  The results appear, along with a faceted search in a side bar that allows for narrowing down the search.  There is also an advanced search function that makes use of the collection’s extensive metadata.  A search tool called MapRank, which is still in beta, allows viewers to choose a geographic location using Google Maps and  chose a time period and/or a subject, and all maps of that location that fit the search criteria show up as instant search results in the side bar.  Additionally, users can create media groups and presentations, and easily share maps with a “Share” button.  There are so many ways to explore this collection that the possibilities for stumbling upon something inspiring seem endless.

(Click to view entire images)

Aside from the vastness of the collection itself, what’s really impressive about David Rumsey Historical Map Collection is the quality of images and viewing capabilities.  David Rumsey, president of Cartography Associates, is a private map collector that decided to make his map collection public through digitization.  The maps are digitized in high resolution and displayed using cutting edge software that allows users to easily zoom in and see the details, compare maps side by side, and create their own collections.

Rumsey recieved an Honors Award from the Special Library Association in 2002 for making his collection freely available to the public online.  The site has won other awards as well, and it’s easy to see why. Rarely, it seems, is an extensive private collection shared in a way that emphasizes public access and public use.  For artists looking for map images to inspire or inform their work, this site is a valuable resource.

Have you explored the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection?  What maps and images interested you them most?  Share the link with us in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter!


Image information: 

1.  “Panorama of the Seat of War. Birds Eye View Of Virginia, Maryland Delaware And The District Of Columbia.” John Bachmann, Publisher, 115 & 117 Nassau St., New York. Entered … 1861 by John Bachmann … New York. Drawn from Nature and Lith. by John Bachmann.
2. “A Correct Map Of The Seat Of War In Mexico. Being a Copy of Genl. Arista’s Map, taken at Resaca de la Palma, with additions and Corrections”  New York: Published By J. Disturnell. 102, Broadway, 1847. Designed by J.G. Bruff Washington D.C. Entered 1847, by J.G. Bruff … New York. Lith. of E. Jones & G.W. Newman, 128, Fulton St. On Stone by J. Probst. (with 4 inset maps).
3. “(Composite) [Views from Sentinel Dome Nos. 1, 2, 3.; Photographs Nos. 19, 20, and 21.]” The Yosemite Book; A Description of the Yosemite Valley and the Adjacent Region of the Sierra Nevada, and of the Big Trees of California, Illustrated by Maps and Photographs. Geological Survey of California. J.D. Whitney, State Geologist. Published by Authority of the Legislature. New York, Julius Bien. 1868.
4. “Panorama Of The Mississippi Valley And Its Fortifications.” Published by C. Magnus, 12 Frankfort Street, New York. Eng. by F.W. Boell.
All four images from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. 

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