Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

Soviet Map

Stan­ford University’s been in the news late­ly, what with expand­ing its tuition waiv­er last year and now fac­ing renewed scruti­ny over its ultra-low admis­sions rate. These sto­ries have per­haps over­shad­owed oth­er Stan­ford news of a more aca­d­e­m­ic nature: the arrival of the David Rum­sey Map Cen­ter, which cel­e­brat­ed its grand open­ing yes­ter­day and con­tin­ues the fes­tiv­i­ties today and tomor­row. While these kinds of uni­ver­si­ty improve­ments are rarely of much inter­est to the gen­er­al pub­lic, this one high­lights a col­lec­tion worth giv­ing full atten­tion. Well, for those of us, that is, who love maps.

Twelve Perspectives

You do not need to be a Stan­ford stu­dent or fac­ul­ty or staff mem­ber to access the vast trea­sures of the Rum­sey Map col­lec­tion, nor do you need to vis­it the uni­ver­si­ty or its new Cen­ter. Since 1996, the Rum­sey collection’s online data­base has been open to all, cur­rent­ly offer­ing any­one with an inter­net con­nec­tion access to 67,000 maps from all over the globe, span­ning five cen­turies of car­tog­ra­phy.

Rumsey’s hold­ings con­sti­tute, writes Wired, “the dopest map col­lec­tion on Earth,” and though its phys­i­cal hous­ing at Stan­ford is a huge boon to aca­d­e­m­ic researchers, its online archive is yours for the brows­ing, search­ing, and down­load­ing, who­ev­er and wher­ev­er you are.

Pages like the 1867 map “Twelve Per­spec­tives on the Earth in Orbit and Rota­tion,” fur­ther up, con­tain detailed pub­li­ca­tion infor­ma­tion, the abil­i­ty to zoom in and exam­ine the tini­est details, and an “export” func­tion allow­ing users to down­load a vari­ety of res­o­lu­tions up to 12288 pix­els. (The same holds true for all oth­er maps.) There’s also a new fea­ture for many maps called “Geo­ref­er­enc­ing” (see a short intro­duc­to­ry video above), which match­es the map’s con­tours with oth­er his­toric maps or with more accu­rate, mod­ern satel­lite images.

Yosemite Valley

In the case of “Twelve Per­spec­tives on the Earth in Orbit and Rota­tion,” the geo­ref­er­enc­ing func­tion returns an error mes­sage stat­ing “this is not a map.” But in ter­res­tri­al images, like the topo­graph­i­cal map of the Yosemite Val­ley above, we can choose spe­cif­ic por­tions to geo­ref­er­ence, use the “visu­al­ize” func­tion to see how they match up to con­tem­po­rary views, and con­duct an accu­ra­cy analy­sis. (Geo­ref­er­enc­ing requires sign-in with a free account, or you can use your Google, Face­book, or Twit­ter log-ins.) Geo­ref­er­enc­ing is not avail­able for all maps, yet. You can help the Rum­sey col­lec­tion expand the fea­ture by vis­it­ing this page and click­ing the “Ran­dom Map” link.

1900 NYC Map

The Rum­sey Col­lec­tion con­tains a seem­ing­ly inex­haustible sup­ply of car­to­graph­ic images, such as the col­or­ful aer­i­al view of New York City from 1900, above, and the 1949 com­pos­ite map of the Sovi­et Union, at the top of the post. In addi­tion to the maps themselves—most works of art in their own right—the data­base is full of oth­er beau­ti­ful images relat­ed to geog­ra­phy, such as the fab­u­lous, full-col­or title page below for the 1730 Atlas Novus sive Tab­u­lae Geo­graph­i­cae by Matthaeus Seut­ter.

Atlas Novus

David Rum­sey—cur­rent­ly Pres­i­dent of the dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny Car­tog­ra­phy Associates—began col­lect­ing maps and “relat­ed car­to­graph­ic mate­ri­als” in 1980. Since then, his phys­i­cal col­lec­tion has grown to include over 150,000 maps, to be housed at the Stan­ford Cen­ter that bears his name, and he has received sev­er­al awards for mak­ing his col­lec­tion avail­able online. The car­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts among us, and the hard­core schol­ars, can like­ly look for­ward to many more maps appear­ing in the web archive. For now, there’s no short­age of fas­ci­nat­ing mate­r­i­al.

rumsey map

On the site’s home­page, they high­light these areas worth explor­ing:

The his­tor­i­cal map col­lec­tion has over 67,000 maps and images online. The col­lec­tion includes rare 16th through 21st cen­tu­ry maps of Amer­i­caNorth Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, Africa, Pacif­ic and the World.

Pop­u­lar col­lec­tion cat­e­gories are celes­tial, antique atlas,globe, school geog­ra­phy, mar­itime chart, state, coun­ty, city, pock­et, wall & case, chil­dren’s, and man­u­script maps. Search exam­ples: Pic­to­r­i­al maps, Unit­ed States maps, Geol­o­gy maps, Cal­i­for­nia map, Afghanistan map,Amer­i­ca map, New York City map, Chica­go map, andU.S. Civ­il War maps. Browse  map cat­e­gories: What, Where, Who, When. The col­lec­tion is used to study his­to­ry, art, geneal­o­gy, explo­rations, and fam­i­ly his­to­ry.

Get to brows­ing… and geo­ref­er­enc­ing….

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Now Free Online

A Plan­e­tary Per­spec­tive: Tril­lions of Pic­tures of the Earth Avail­able Through Google Earth Engine

19th Cen­tu­ry Maps Visu­al­ize Measles in Amer­i­ca Before the Mir­a­cle of Vac­cines

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (12)
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  • Donald Rinaldo says:

    I love maps even if I can’t see that well.

  • Donald Rinaldo says:

    I use my T.V. screen as my mon­i­tor for my com­put­er and I still can’t see it very well.

  • Gregjlumley says:

    Thank you.

  • Dee says:

    For years I’ve been look­ing for a map that shows the ancient city/country names as well as the names of the peo­ples who lived there, and which also shows [per­haps an over­lay of] the mod­ern equiv­a­lents. I’ve read so many books where they men­tion old place names or ancient civil­i­sa­tions and I have no idea where they are refer­ring to. Does any­one know where I could find some­thing like this please, or even what search terms I should use to google it? Have tried many times and this site is the clos­est I have come to find­ing this info but there is so much to look through here, I don’t know where to start. Any help much appre­ci­at­ed! Thanks!

  • Lewis says:

    A geog­ra­phy or maps librar­i­an should be able to help you. Try these places online:

    Many pub­lic libraries have online “ask a librar­i­an” options, here’s the one for Flori­da to give one exam­ple (find your city or state by search­ing “ask a librar­i­an [city or state]”:

    Or go to a local pub­lic or uni­ver­si­ty library and ask if they have a librar­i­an who spe­cial­izes in geog­ra­phy or maps who could help you (and just keep try­ing until you find some­one who knows how to guide you; if a par­tic­u­lar librar­i­an does­n’t know, ask them what or who to try next; most librar­i­ans love to help).

  • Roy Roberts says:

    Search­ing for high def­i­n­i­tion map of france

  • Mikkel says:

    Dear Dee.
    Here is a map of the home­towns of most of the char­ac­ters in Home­r’s “Ili­ad”:

    And here is a map from with ancient place names which change accord­ing to the date you choose in the date field.

    Also a map here of the Roman Empire from the same web­site (lots of place names):

  • Ali Naji says:

    l haven’t seen it yet

  • Dinaol says:

    His­to­ry known.

  • Derrick says:

    Greet­ings you have detailed ‚u.s maps road/ highwey/ route maps frum
    1960. 1966
    What was the most dri­ven routes ‚dri­ving frum bk,n.y. on the
    Inter­boro park­wey ‚exit 2. To chicago,to reach the start­ing point
    For route 66.!!

  • Derrick says:

    Thank you! You have ‚any original,or pho­to­copie s uv the maps ‚even the
    Petrol sta­tions would hand out!

  • Derrick says:

    You have ‚us road­wey. Maps frum 1600 ‑1970,–ESPECIALLY
    THE most dri­ven routes ‚dri­ven for 1960 1985, but esp!

    27 june. 1966. To 27 july 1966.
    Orig­i­nals or reprints , good!!

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