Download 131,000 Historic Maps from the Huge David Rumsey Map Collection

The world has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the past 500 years, albeit not quite as dra­mat­i­cal­ly as how we see the world. That’s just what’s on dis­play at the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, whose more than 131,000 his­tor­i­cal maps and relat­ed images are avail­able to browse (or down­load) free online. Since we last fea­tured it here on Open Cul­ture, the col­lec­tion has added at least 40,000 items to its dig­i­tal hold­ings, mak­ing it an even more valu­able resource for not just under­stand­ing how human­i­ty has viewed the world through­out the ages, but how we’ve imag­ined it — and, for that mat­ter, how we’ve imag­ined oth­er worlds from Mars to Nar­nia to Kryp­ton.

“Imag­i­nary maps” is just one of the cat­e­gories through which you can explore the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion. There are also tags for news­pa­per maps, time­lines, city maps, celes­tial maps, data visu­al­iza­tions, chil­dren’s maps, and more vari­eties besides.

If you’d pre­fer a more tra­di­tion­al form of orga­ni­za­tion, you can search for maps of spe­cif­ic geo­graph­i­cal regions: North Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, Africa, Aus­tralia, Antarc­ti­ca, the Pacif­ic, the Arc­tic, and of course, the world. If it’s the last item you’re inter­est­ed in, apart from the con­sid­er­able two-dimen­sion­al hold­ings, the inter­ac­tive globes con­sti­tute a gallery of their own, and there you can view ones made between the mid-six­teenth cen­tu­ry and just last year from every pos­si­ble angle.

Among the site’s new fea­tures is a “search by text-on-maps” fea­ture, which you can acti­vate by click­ing the “by Text on Maps” but­ton next to the search win­dow at the top of the page. This lets you com­pare and con­trast the ways par­tic­u­lar places have been labeled on the vari­ety of maps in the col­lec­tion: not just prop­er names like Cairo, Madrid, and Yosemite, but also more gen­er­al terms like “gold mine,” “light­house” or “drag­ons.” Arguably, we look at maps more often here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry than we ever did before, though sel­dom if ever do we depart from whichev­er map­ping app we hap­pen to keep on our phones. It’s worth step­ping back in car­to­graph­i­cal time to remem­ber that there were once as many ways of under­stand­ing the world as there were depic­tions of it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Oculi Mun­di: A Beau­ti­ful Online Archive of 130 Ancient Maps, Atlases & Globes

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Baby­lon, Rome, and the Islam­ic World

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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