Old Maps Online Project launched at AAG

The Old Maps Online Project was officially launched Feb. 29 2012 at the AAG’s New York Public Library events. Old Maps Online presents an interactive interface for finding historical maps of any area (eg., Kentucky) in whatever collection they may be in. (Currently it covers the David Rumsey site, National Library of Scotland, The British Library, the Moravian Library, and A Vision of Britain Through Time.)

“The gateway to scanned maps in libraries around the world”–Petr Pridal (Klokan Technologies).

The initial interface is uncluttered and clean, with a dimmed background map (Google) of your detected location appearing by default:

To the right is a scrollable list automatically generated of the maps which cover your chosen timeline (you can narrow this down using a slider bar). You can also search by location if you want to recenter the view, or of course zoom in out and around. Searching by location is an appropriate alternative to text-based searching for places, if it can be implemented well.

I spun the map over to West Africa to see what they had for Ghana. As you move the mouse over the map choices, their areal extent is highlighted (smoothly and quickly) on the main Google map. (This can only be approximate of course, since modern coordinate systems and locations do not necessarily find equivalents on maps hundreds of years old.) It’s very nicely done, simple and and intuitive.

Selecting the map is as simple as clicking it. A preview of the map and a link to the digital version held at the institution (eg David Rumsey) comes up.

Old Maps Online is described in more detail here and is brought to us in part by the Great Britain Historical GIS Project (at my old employers, the Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth) and Swiss map company Klokan Tech. (See a slideshow they gave at the AAG here.)

This will be a very useful project, and not just for the general public. These things depend upon having good content as well as usability, and of course Rumsey, BL etc do provide that. But more critically “good content” means not just having the map or providing a small thumbnail, but being able to download high resolution versions (as again Rumsey, as a private collector, can do). A nice interface to a dead end or $$$ is frustrating.

Imagine using this in classes for example. A simple exercise would include mastery of geographical searching, downloading, and georeferencing with ArcMap or preferably an open source tool like mapknitter.org.

To this extent Old Maps Online depends on the projects it links through to. Rumsey–fine. BL–not fine (thumbnail, no download option) and also they use  Zoomify Flash which does not work in a leading browser (Chrome, eg., see here; Zoomify HTML5 works fine).

Rumsey provides a very high resolution jpg download as well as a MrSid format, suitable for ArcMap. Like the BL, A Vision of Britain does not discernibly provide a download option either. I’m sure there are reasons for this, but it limits the utility of the project. Hopefully we’ll see more open sites linked in the future, and I would also suggest an open source basemap such as OpenStreetMap (eg. to do georeferencing).

Overall an elegant solution providing access to a myriad of valuable cartographic resources.


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