The Harvard Map Collection: Digital Paradise for the Cartographically Obsessed

The Harvard Map Collection has a long history of gathering cartographic and geospatial records from around the world. The collection at Harvard University dates back centuries, allowing researchers access to historic and modern maps as well as geographic data.

Harvard also offers an extensive archive of imaged Digital Maps on their website, so you don’t have to worry about making the trek to Cambridge to pursue old maps to your heart’s content. This digital archive offers maps that are free from copyright restrictions, so most date prior to the mid-1920s.

Centuries ago, creating a map was like authoring a book, the creators name was attached to the map. Cartography is still a common profession, though today it usually involves CAD, GPS, and GIS. Sometimes it also involves reproducing old maps. For some reason, I just love old maps. It’s a very tangible, practical piece of bygone eras. It represents life before the technology age- and, interestingly, technology has made these maps accessible to the masses.

The Harvard Map Collection: Digital Maps, is great for perusing and learning about history. They currently have a featured digital gallery, Going for Baroque: The Iconography of the Ornamental Map, on the narratives being told through ornaments and designs on maps from the 1600s and 1700s.

Highlights from the collection indexes:

Acadia with adjacent islands, 1755, by Francis Parkman

To her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Victoria this hydrographical map of the British Islesby Petermann, A.  and Symons, G. J.

Gentleman’s pocket companion through all the direct & principal cross roads in England and Wales, 1600s, by John Ogilby

The Union News Company’s indexed map of the Worlds Columbian exposition at Chicago, 1893- World’s Columbian Exposition was a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World.

View of San Francisco’s ruins taken from a balloonLos Angeles Times. May 24, 1906- Taken after the great earthquake of 1906.

War map of Eastern Europe, The Daily Telegraph, WWI, by Alexander Gross, F.R.G.S.


For more maps, you might want to follow the Harvard Map Collection instagram page.



*Featured image from Creative Commons, not Harvard Map Collection

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