David Rumsey amid items of his map, atlas and globe collection

The David Rumsey Map Collection was started over 35 years ago and contains more than 200,000 maps. The collection focuses on rare 16th through 21st century maps of North and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The collection includes atlases, globes, wall maps, school geographies, pocket maps, books of exploration, maritime charts, and a variety of cartographic materials including pocket, wall, children's, and manuscript maps. Items range in date from around 1550 to the present.

Digitization of the collection began in 1996 and there are now over 129,000 items online, with new additions added regularly. The site is free and open to the public. Here viewers have access not only to high resolution images of maps that are extensively cataloged, but also to a variety of tools that allow users to compare, analyze, and view items in new and experimental ways.

Maps are uniquely suited to high-resolution scanning because of the large amount of detailed information they contain. In their original form, maps and atlases can be large, delicate, and unwieldy. Digitization increases their accessibility, helps to extend longevity by minimizing handling, and when combined with a robust online catalog, maps can be searched in a variety of ways. The site allows public access to rare maps that had been previously available only to a few.

With Luna Imaging's LUNA software supporting this virtual library, the maps are experienced in a revolutionary way. Multiple maps from different time periods can be viewed side-by-side. High resolution permits the inspection of detail with the same intimacy of viewing the maps in person, using a magnifying glass. Viewers can also create their own collections of maps that hold particular interest by saving groups of images together. Complete cataloging data accompany each image, enabling in-depth searches of the collection. 

The collection is distinguished by American cartography illustrating the country's history, with its changes in culture and population over time. Close inspection of the maps often reveals the growth and decline of towns, mining excavations, the unfolding of the railroads, and the exploration of the American West by European settlers. The depiction of westward expansion also features locations populated by indigenous peoples, including Indian reservations. The collection also includes European maps of the Americas that were influential to American cartographers. In addition, the collection’s geographical coverage spans the globe, with maps of superlative craftsmanship, historical significance, and beauty. Many maps of other parts of the world appear in different languages, such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and braille. Connecting them all is the universal tongue of visual communication.

A more detailed description of the early evolution of the physical collection into the online collection can be found in "State of the Art", an article that originally appeared in Mercator's World Magazine. Here, David Rumsey describes his intention in sharing the maps digitally - “When you can see all the maps, globes, charts, atlases and their related materials in one space, as you can in my physical library, you can start to sense how maps grow one from another in time, as one map incorporates the new discoveries of an earlier map, and thus you can visually feel the flow of history over several centuries … I hope to re-create this sense of connection between the maps and history, as well as introducing people to the stunning beauty of these arcane materials that most have never seen.”

David Rumsey has donated his entire physical map collection to Stanford University where it is housed at the David Rumsey Map Center in the Stanford University Library. The Rumsey Map Center is open to the public weekdays from 1-5pm and weekday mornings by appointment. Stanford also archives all of Rumsey's digital map collection in the Stanford Digital Repository. Rumsey continues to make his collection available online at www.davidrumsey.com


about the technology

The collection on the Internet brings together the finest optical equipment and digital scanners, cutting edge viewing technology, the latest image processing software, powerful wavelet compression, and reliable long-term storage of digital images. The digitized maps are very high resolution images scanned at 300 to 800 pixels per inch, as measured against the original map's dimensions. The larger maps generate files frequently approaching 5 gigabytes in size; the average file size of images in the collection is 250 megabytes.

The following hardware and software is used in the process of creating and distributing the images over the Internet:

  • LUNA client/server and browser software by Luna Imaging, Inc.
  • PhaseOne PowerphaseFX 4x5 digital scanning camera back (380 megabyte capture)
  • PhaseOne image-capture software
  • Sinar X 4x5 view camera
  • Image Access WideTEK 48 sheet scanner
  • Image Access Bookeye 4 scanner
  • Rodenstock lenses
  • Kaiser RePro copy stand with Videssence Icelites
  • Adobe PhotoShop CS6 
  • GeoExpress image compression software by LizardTech
  • Georeferencer v4 software and hosting by Klokan Technologies 
  • Maplicity and MapImager GIS software from Telemorphic (archived website)
  • ArcGIS software from ESRI
  • Global Mapper GIS mapping software

Computer Network:

  • Apple Mac Pro, Two 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5, 64 gigabytes RAM
  • Apple Mac Pro, Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core, 12 gigabytes RAM
  • Dell Precision T7820 Workstation, Six Cores, 128  gigabytes RAM, one Samsung 8ft 8k screen


about cartography associates

Cartography Associates, founded in 1996, promotes the distribution of digital facsimiles both in print and electronic media. Specializing in both primary source documents and cutting-edge technology, Cartography Associates is committed to developing tools that integrate cataloging with visual images on the Internet. Cartography Associates' vision is to offer users the best of both worlds: the powerful searching, access, and user functionality made possible by technology, combined with the visual beauty, technical mastery and intellectual richness of original source materials. Currently these individuals contribute to the work of Cartography Associates: Fatemah VanBuren (cataloging), Emily Prince de la Cruz (cataloging), Glenn Bachmann (imaging), Sophie Appel (imaging), Brandon Rumsey (Imaging), and David Rumsey (cataloging and imaging). Past contributors have been Julie Sweetkind-Singer, Kristian McManus, Phil Hoehn, and Daniel Holmes.*
*Daniel Holmes died September 30 2021. His contributions to our work were profound, over many years, and we will miss him.


Copyright and Permissions

Images from this web site and database may be reproduced or transmitted, but not for commercial use. Permitted non-commercial use is any work or publication, either in print or digital media. Please give image credit to "David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries"  Commercial use is selling reproductions of our images. For commercial use or commercial republication, contact mailto:carto@davidrumsey.com

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. By downloading any images from this site, you agree to the terms of that license. Users are expected to abide by all copyright laws. Distribution, reproduction, or other use requires the written permission of any copyright and other rights holders unless the materials are in the public domain or authorized by fair use or other statutory exemption. It is the user’s obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in this collection. For maps not in the public domain that we know are being sold by their makers, we do not allow downloading or printing and we attempt to provide a link to the maker's site in our metadata for the map.