About the Collection

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the Big Map Blog

I came across many of the maps you'll see on the Big Map Blog while doing research for a film I'm working on. While searching, I found thousands of old, beautiful maps that are sadly being kept from the public that deserves them — sometimes by clumsy or unwieldy government ftp sites, and other times by archives with steep fees for research, and steeper fees for reproduction. I felt strongly that something should be done about this.

I'm a big fan of maps, and always have been. My undergraduate (Read: "only") degree was in Geography; I studied cartography and geographic information science. I had the tools and expertise, I had the archival access, and I figured there'd be no excuse for me not to put these maps back in your hands.

I follow many terriffic map blogs, some of which you'll see linked in this website's footer. As good as they are — and I assure you that there are many out there who write much more lucid and engaging prose about cartography than I do [ex.01, ex.02, ex.03] — there's always been two things I wanted from a map blog, and rarely got: A.) enormous maps, and B.) access to the full-resolution file.

That's what this website is about: enormous maps, file access, and if I can bang out a couple of paragraphs without sounding like an ass, then all the better. If you have any questions, any maps you'd like me to look at, or any map-related things I can help you out with, feel free to contact me.

With kind regards,
–the 59 king

(Oh, and if you know of anyone with the desire and the artistic chops to create a modern equivalent to the many Victorian-era "Birdseye" lithographs you see on this site, send him or her my way; I think I could help facilitate that, and I'd be happy to do so.)
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Image Viewer

Big Map Blog uses zoom.it to display the maps on this site. I think it's good but not great; but it is quite a bit better than most other visualization options available.

Zoom.it does not require installation of Microsoft's Silverlight, but says that zoom.it is "enhanced" by its presence. I resisted Silverlight for three years, but installed it on another machine to test the claim. Turns out it's true. There was a noticeable (but not critical) change in the overall smoothness and speed of the display. Whether or not this is worth it to you to install the plugin is your decision; it works either way.

One thing overlooked by many people is the "full screen" mode. This improves the viewing experience considerably. Full-screen can be turned on by clicking on a link in the lower right corner of any individual zoom.it map window.

Zoom.it can be quite a resource-hog if you let it. For this reason, I'd caution against opening a dozen map windows at once.

Image Sources

More than two thirds of the images on Big Map Blog are from four sources. Some of these sources are easier to navigate than others, but they all have fantastic stuff: 1.) the Perry-Castañeda Map Collection, 2.) the Rumsey Map Collection, 3.) the Library of Congress, and 4.) the fantastic new USGS Earth Explorer.

I am always, always on the lookout for new map sources. If you know of a hidden gem, I would love it if you would contact me. If you are an archivist or a librarian (some of my favorite types of people) and would like to show me some of y'alls digital imagery or GIS stuff, I would bend over backwards to return the favor.

Image Optimization, and File Access

I've made every effort to ensure that these maps look as good as they can.

Color correction, sharpening, and noise-removal were used in this process, but not to the destructive extremes that these tools are put to by hacks. There are a small number of oversharpened images on this site; but they were like that when they got to me (from a single archive who I have no desire at all to shame). I swear this on anything. While in my care these images have been treated like you'd treat your own Mother['s images ??].

In most cases I was working with a TIFF file — which is great for archival use, but pretty terrible for serving over the web. I saved in JPEG with settings that matched the strengths of the image. I also clipped parts of collars to reduce file size — I'm sure someone out there thinks that's an abomination; and I'm not entirely unsympathetic to your argument. However: I took hard lines against removal of authorship information, or any distinguishing marks. Your pretty scrollwork? That might've got dinged.

Most sites would put even these optimized JPEGs behind a paywall. I've been told before why it is legal for them to do that, but I always thought that was a petty and infuriating position to take. Not here, though. The download link is in the right table beneath the square thumbnail image.

If you have any other questions, give me a holler.

Legal Disclaimer, and Your Responsibilities With These Files

The original images presented on this website are not the property of this website and are believed to be in the public domain. No endorsement of or affiliation with any third party is intended or implied by the presence of any information or images on this website. You assume all risk related to your use of the images on this website, including sole responsibility for using such images in accordance with applicable law. If you believe that your copyrighted work or the copyrighted work of another party is being infringed, please contact me.
the 59 King

the 59 King

The 59 King is a signmaker by trade, a geographer by academic training, and a filmmaker by avocation. He makes no claim to competence in any of those fields.

He is proud to live in South City, St. Louis [gmap]. He has one pet.

Contact the 59 King:
here, or by email: king@bigmapblog.com