British Library invites public to shape "addictive" Google Earth maps project

By Culture24 Reporter | 28 January 2013
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Enthusiasts are being asked to update arguably the greatest map collection in the world. The British Library wants online volunteers to add further insights to its vault of ancient terrains, using Google Earth and location tagging to work out where historic sites might lie today.

A photo of a screen grab of an ancient map overlying an online map of a continent
William Snelgrave, A New Map of that Part of Africa Called the Coast of Guinea (1734). Overlaid on modern mapping online© 2013 Cnes/Spot Image, 2013 Google
The last time the library invited the public to help update its collection of more than 4.5 million maps, 708 new additions were made in a week.

“It’s easy to use and highly addictive,” explains Kimberly Kowal, the Lead Curator of Digital Mapping, who believes the global campaign will nurture the impressive digitised collections held in London.

“Although many locations have changed significantly over the centuries, sometimes almost beyond recognition, only a handful of common features – street intersections, buildings or some natural features – are necessary to link the past with the present.

“This project brings together people’s passion for maps and history with the latest online crowdsourcing tools.

“It’s a fascinating way to explore the past while improving the information that underpins our digitised collections.”

The Library’s third call for cartology fans is the first time the idea has gone global. Every continent is covered by the 800 maps singled out for inspection, ranging from the 17th to 20th centuries and put to purposes including military, topographic, ecological and planning surveys.

Contributors can plot locations, search for maps and navigate existing ones. The Library of Congress, in Washington DC, is the only venue in the world to hold a larger collection of maps.

More maps:

A photo of a screen grab of an ancient map overlying an online map of a continent
Surveyor General John Killian, A plan of the town of St John's on the Island of Antigua (drawn 1788). Overlaid on modern mapping online© 2013 Digital Globe, 2013 Google
A photo of a screen grab of an ancient map overlying an online map of a continent
John Mustie, Map of Parangipettai (Porto Novo) (1800). Overlaid on modern mapping online© 2013 GeoEye, 2013 Digital Globe, 2013 TerraMetrics, 2013 Google
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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