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This week the British Library launched an online collection of digitized “topographical materials” (i.e., views of and writings about places) called Picturing Places. More than 500 items—paintings, prints, drawings, texts and yes, maps—so far, sorted by theme and with dozens of accompanying articles.
Picturing Places demonstrates that topography involves far more than straightforward ‘pictorial evidence’ of what a place looked like in the past. We showcase some of the Library’s most treasured topographical materials, including Tudor views collected by Robert Cotton and maps and views owned by George III. But much of this material remains uncharted, and is being brought to wider attention for the first time. The first phase of Picturing Places features over 500 collection items, most never published before, and over 100 articles providing fresh perspectives and new ideas.
One of these digitized items is one of the Library’s crown jewels: the gigantic Klencke Atlas presented to Charles II in 1660, all of the pages of which can now be viewed online. How do you digitize an atlas that is 1.76 by 2.31 metres wide when open? Not with a flatbed scanner, you don’t. Here’s how:
This digitisation process combines high resolution scanning, up to 1200 dpi, with precise lighting technique and incredibly accurate colour rendition. This process is ideal for scanning really large, long items like this map, panoramas and items with high levels of fine detail. The files captured at these resolutions allow up to 50× enlargement, making them excellent sources for detailed investigation into aspects of the physical substrate of the item and for innovative multimedia exhibition and display.
The map was scanned in 15cm sections and will be stitched together to create an exceptionally accurate and detailed high resolution file.
NPR and the Washington Post report a fascinating story of how a rare atlas was identified in an unlikely fashion: being posted to Reddit. Last month, reference librarian Anders Kvernberg stumbled across an uncatalogued atlas in the vaults of the National Library of Norway. He could make out that it was an Ottoman atlas from 1803, but not much more than that, since he couldn’t read Ottoman Turkish. He did scan and post one of its maps to Reddit, where Redditors went to work translating the text. Then, a couple of weeks later, another Redditor posted an Ottoman map of Africa, which was identified as part of the Cedid Atlas (Cedid Atlas Tercümesi), published in Istanbul in 1803. The Library of Congress has a copy, which it acquired in 1998, digitized, and put online. Kvernberg went and looked—and, he says, “started recognising the scans. Then I realized this was the very same atlas I had held in my hands a few weeks earlier.” The Cedid Atlas was rare: only 50 were printed, and only 14 were known to be held in public institutions. It turns out that the National Library of Norway has the 15th. [via]
On New Year’s Eve The Arts Newspaper reported on the British Library’s efforts to digitize the 50,000 maps and plans that make up the King George III Topographical Collection. (George III was apparently quite the map collector, one not above choosing not to return maps he borrowed.) They’re about a quarter of the way through so far. The collection’s crown jewel, so to speak, is the ludicrously large (176 × 231 cm) Klencke Atlas.