Friday, April 24, 2009

The World Digital Library Has Lots of Maps

The World Digital Library has launched.



The mission of the WDL is to "[make] available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world." It was developed by a team from the US Library of Congress with support from UNESCO. According to the site
The WDL makes it possible to discover, study, and enjoy cultural treasures from around the world on one site, in a variety of ways. These cultural treasures include, but are not limited to, manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

Items on the WDL may easily be browsed by place, time, topic, type of item, and contributing institution, or can be located by an open-ended search, in several languages. Special features include interactive geographic clusters, a timeline, advanced image-viewing and interpretive capabilities. Item-level descriptions and interviews with curators about featured items provide additional information.

Navigation tools and content descriptions are provided in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Many more languages are represented in the actual books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and other primary materials, which are provided in their original languages.
Indeed, the site is very friendly to the user; the map interface is especially handy for those of us who like our information represented in geographical terms. And they've got lots of great stuff, including, of course, hundreds of historical maps. Maps like this one of the Lands Where the Sage-Emperor Yu Left His Traces.


This rubbing is of a Chinese map engraved in stone in the seventh year of the Fouchang era of the Qi state (1136). The stele survives in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an. The map is oriented with north at the top and south at the bottom. Over 500 place names are plotted on the map, which represents a panorama of China in Song times. The engraving of the hydraulic systems is especially detailed, with nearly 80 rivers named. The courses of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers are very close to the way they appear on present-day maps. The contour of the seacoast is also quite accurate. Among surviving maps engraved in stone, this map is the oldest and the earliest to have grid marks indicating scale. It is a prime example of the level of mapmaking in the Song dynasty, and occupies an important place in the history of Chinese cartography. In his Science and Civilisation in China, the British scholar Joseph Needham praised this work as the most outstanding map of its time.
And there's hundreds more where that came from.

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