Have you come across a map that you love, but know nothing about? Do you want to find more works by your favorite cartographer? Libraries with map collections, and of course librarians, are a great research resource, but there are some great online tools at your fingertips.
These tools split nicely into two categories, with a little bit of overlap: collections and references.
High quality digital imaging and the internet bring many library and private collections to virtually anyone with a connected device.
One of the best is that of David Rumsey. A prolific map and atlas collector, Rumsey has imaged his collection and uploaded those images to his website along with metadata and background on the pieces. Further, his database has a tool that associates antiquarian maps with current digital maps allowing analysis of the changes over time. While I have not found every map in my collection in his database, he does have many of them.
Many national libraries and archives have fantastic map collections available online. Both the Library of Congress and the British Library have wide collections. Many official land surveys and other maps drawn for government purposes are in these collections. My favorite, held by the Library of Congress, is an official survey of the Mason Dixon line. Some of these libraries will answer questions via email.
Map dealers often have extensive research on their current holdings and sold pieces. Their online catalogs and descriptions are very valuable tools.
Beyond digitized collections, the web brings a wealth of reference materials. Some of the collections above can also serve as references; the materials below are strictly reference.
The History of Cartography series published out of the University of Chicago is a phenomenal, comprehensive set of volumes. Several of the volumes are made available free of charge.
Google Books offers digitized books from the 19th century, many are searchable in some manner. These provide tremendous context in affording the ability to look up antiquated measurements, find contemporary accounts of expeditions, research land surveys, etc. Unfortunately, many do not print or download.
Wikipedia is not an authoritative source as anyone can edit its pages and there is no telling how competent those editors are. However, an article with abundant citations is a great starting point. Using the references at the bottom of the page, you can track down the original sources and evaluate them for yourself.
Interested in learning more about comparative views? Check out my ebook!
© Peter Roehrich, 2016