Download 91,000 Historic Maps from the Massive David Rumsey Map Collection

Three years ago, we high­light­ed one of the most com­pre­hen­sive map col­lec­tions in exis­tence, the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, then new­ly moved to Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. The Rum­sey Col­lec­tion, we wrote then, “con­tains a seem­ing­ly inex­haustible sup­ply of car­to­graph­ic images”—justifiable hyper­bole, con­sid­er­ing the amount of time it would take any one per­son to absorb the over 150,000 phys­i­cal arti­facts Rum­sey has amassed in one place.

By 2016, Rum­sey had made almost half the collection—over 67,000 images—freely avail­able in a dig­i­tal archive that has been grow­ing since 1996. Each entry fea­tures high-res­o­lu­tion scans for spe­cial­ists (you can down­load them for free) and more man­age­able image sizes for enthu­si­asts; a wealth of data about prove­nance and his­tor­i­cal con­text; and dig­i­tal, user-friend­ly tools that use crowd-sourc­ing to mea­sure the accu­ra­cy of anti­quat­ed maps against GPS ren­der­ings.

A completist’s dream, the archive “includes rare 16th through 21st cen­tu­ry maps of Amer­i­caNorth Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, AfricaPacif­icArc­ticAntarc­tic, and the World.” Among the seem­ing­ly innu­mer­able exam­ples of car­to­graph­ic inge­nu­ity we find ear­ly data visu­al­iza­tions, util­i­tar­i­an primers, pho­to­graph­ic sur­veys, intri­cate topogra­phies, abstract objets d’art, and his­tor­i­cal cor­ner­stones of Euro­pean map-mak­ing like Abra­ham Ortellus’s 1570 map of “Flan­dria” at the top.

The Ortel­lus “The­atrum” holds “a unique posi­tion in the his­to­ry of car­tog­ra­phy,” notes the Rum­sey Col­lec­tion, as “’the world’s first reg­u­lar­ly pro­duced atlas.’” It was also the first exam­ple of a “The­atre of the World,” a style that would become ubiq­ui­tous in the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry, and it was “the first under­tak­ing of its kind to reduce the best avail­able maps to a uni­form for­mat.”

To make this doc­u­ment even more com­pelling, it con­tains its own bib­li­og­ra­phy. Ortel­lus “men­tioned the names of the authors of the orig­i­nal maps” he drew from “and added a great many names of oth­er car­tog­ra­phers and geo­g­ra­phers.” Not all of the 91,000 and count­ing maps in the Rum­sey dig­i­tal col­lec­tion com­bine this degree of styl­is­tic mas­tery, his­tor­i­cal import, and schol­ar­ly rig­or. But a sur­vey of the Collection’s cat­e­gories will pro­duce few that dis­ap­point in any one of these areas.

The “impor­tant and rare” 1806 map of the U.S. and West Indies by Charles Piquet; the Tolkien-like Ver­gle­ichen­des Tableau der bedeu­tend­sten Hoe­hen der Erde, from 1855, a “dec­o­ra­tive chart… show­ing com­par­a­tive tables of the great­est moun­tains and vol­ca­noes of the world”; the almost-expres­sion­ist map of Chel­tenham from 1899 by the Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey of Great Britain and Ire­land; the fan­ci­ful­ly-illus­trat­ed star-shaped star chart made by Ignace Gas­ton Par­dies in 1693; Mike Cressy’s 1988 “Lit­er­ary Map of Latin Amer­i­ca”…..

This briefest overview of the Collection’s high­lights already feels exhaus­tive. No mat­ter your lev­el of inter­est in maps, from the casu­al to the life­long obses­sive, The David Rum­sey col­lec­tion will deliv­er mul­ti­ple points of entry to maps you nev­er knew exist­ed, and with them, new ways of see­ing cities, regions, nations, ter­ri­to­ries, con­ti­nents, plan­ets, and beyond. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

View and Down­load Near­ly 60,000 Maps from the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS)

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

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