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Digitised Leiden Maps and Atlases collection available in Digital Collections

Leiden University Libraries (UBL) has made more than 20.000 maps, atlases and topographical prints and drawings available in Digital Collections. With this, a significant part of one of the largest and most important collections of maps and atlases in the Netherlands has now been made digitally available for research, education and the general public. Due to copyright protections, recently published maps and atlases may not be available online; these items may be viewed digitally within library premises or can be physically consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Maps and atlases – Bodel Nijenhuis collection

Although the University Library has been collecting maps and atlases from its founding, it wasn’t until 1872, with the legate of map collector Johannes Tiberius Bodel Nijenhuis (1797-1872), containing roughly 50.000 maps, 300 atlases and 22.000 topographical prints and drawings, that UBL had a substantial collection. Over 2,000 of the most important items from these collections are now available online in the Maps and atlases collection in Leiden Digital Collections. This collection is very diverse, with, for example, seventeenth-century VOC and WIC maps, maps made on the occasion of large floods or other current events, informative maps depicting cholera-epidemics in the Netherlands and unique manuscript maps, city plans, topographical prints and utility-maps with contemporary notes.

Maps and atlases from former Dutch colonies

Two of the largest collections that are now digitally available were only recently entrusted to the UBL; the KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) Dutch colonial maps collection and the KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) maps and atlases collection. These collections were given on permanent loan to Leiden University Libraries in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Almost the entire colonial portion of the KIT collection is now available online. The collection contains both colonial and post-colonial maps of former Dutch colonies like Indonesia, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. Moreover, there is still a separate map-viewer available, containing all colonial maps from the KIT collection.

From the KITLV maps and atlases collection, over 10.000 items have been made viewable online, of which the vast majority is comprised of cartographic materials from the former Dutch East Indies and Indonesia. Almost none of these materials are still subject to copyright, making almost the entire collection viewable and downloadable for everyone, everywhere.

The smaller, but not any less important Van Keulen collection has been made digitally available in its entirety. This collection, consisting of a little over three hundred hand-drawn maps of the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, North- and South America and the Pacific, were created at the start of the eighteenth century by the Van Keulen publishing house. The publisher likely sold these very detailed maps of coastal areas as an instrument for coastal navigation.

Additionally, a separate online entrance has been made in Digital Collections for Caribbean maps and atlases from the Bodel Nijenhuis, Van Keulen, KIT and KITLV collections. This collection contains materials from the sixteenth to the twentieth century and covers the Caribbean area and Middle- and South America.

The importance of the digital maps and atlases collection

The collections of colonial maps from the Dutch East Indies, Suriname and the Antilles, one of the most complete collections in the world, are of great importance to Dutch and foreign researchers, according to Martijn Storms, curator for Maps and Atlases at UBL. Via Digital Collections, all this material is now freely available online. Especially at a time when travel movements are restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, materials in Digital Collections may offer a solution.

For education, too, the collection provides great added value, through the enrichment of history classes in the areas of colonialism, naval history (VOC/WIC) and art history. ‘Students can easily encounter different kinds of maps, regions and geographical topics through Digital Collections. Furthermore, we are working on making georeferenced materials available as well, a process in which an old map is accurately overlaid by a modern map.’ says Storms, ‘Maps appeal to people and provide them with the opportunity to search for places from their history and, in that way, find out more about their place in history. That is true for both people in the Netherlands and, for example, for people with Indonesian roots.’

About Digital Collections

UBL makes digitised and born-digital materials available through Digital Collections. The Digital Collections platform provides a wide range of functionalities, like the ability to search printed works full text, to zoom-in on images and the ability to download high definition images. It is also possible to search by types of materials and refine searches, a connection to the library catalogue is readily available and one can search different collections at the same time. Every collection has its own collection page, ensuring easy access to individual collections. Every digital source record has been provided with a persistent link, making records suitable for reference on the internet and in academic publications. Many materials in Digital Collections have been published under a CC-BY license, which makes them usable and alterable for every user. UBL continues to add new materials to Digital Collections. New users can view our instruction video’s to optimally utilize the functionality of Digital Collections.

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