The broadest single collection of historical maps from around the world is now available online.
The Jisc-funded Old Maps Online, described by its creators as like Google for old maps, will act as a central repository to a vast collection of maps held by institutions across the globe. It is the first time that access to such an extensive collection has been made available online.
Paola Marchionni, programme manager at Jisc, said: “Maps have great potential to engage not only professional historians but also students and the amateur public. But they have previously been difficult to access because you need so much detail about what you are looking for.
"By customising existing technology Old Maps Online makes it easy for everybody to find and compare maps through time in a highly visual way without the need for specialist knowledge. Jisc is supporting a big step towards widening access to and use of these fascinating resources.”
The service, hosted by the University of Portsmouth, launches with over 60,000 maps which will double by the end of the year.
Project director, the University of Portsmouth’s Dr Humphrey Southall, said: “Our obsession with the past includes an innate curiosity about how the world around us looked, and the sheer global reach of this collection is what sets it apart and makes it unique. But historical records must be accessible in order to be useful. Having a single point of entry to a repository of this scale offers historians and the general public a gateway to some of the most fascinating images from history.”
The site incorporates access to collections at the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Moravian Library in the Czech Republic and the prestigious David Rumsey Collection in California.
Adam Farquhar, head of digital scholarship at the British Library, said: "The Old Maps Online project brings together our cartographic heritage digitally in one place. It supports both researchers and the wider public, aligning beautifully with the strategic goals of the British Library."
Other collections to be added later this year include those from Harvard University, the New York Public Library, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library at Oxford and several major European libraries.