map collection

Stanford offers map collection

David Rumsey and one of his maps on a giant monitor

Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service David Rumsey and one of his maps on a giant monitorLinda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Stanford University opened a map center that offers the public one of the world’s largest private map collections. There are over 150,000 items, including maps, atlases, globes and other objects. San Francisco real estate developer David Rumsey, 71, donated the collection and the center bears his name. The collection shows how maps evolved between the 18th century, when representations of areas were generally limited to describing the physical environment, and the 19th century, when other information was added, including the prevalence of diseases in a given area and data collected from censuses, such as the ethnic, religious and educational characteristics of populations. The maps are already very popular. Back in the 1990s, Rumsey decided to scan the collection, much of which is on display at “I’m not a possessive collector. What I’m most excited about is acquiring something other people can learn from and use,” Rumsey tells National Geographic.

In the facilities built to house the center in the Stanford library department in Palo Alto, California, any user with an academic interest may request a paper map and use a variety of monitors, including a touch screen that measures 3.6 meters in width and 2 meters in height to explore the details of the image and compare it with other maps or satellite images. Two other collections of maps of California and Africa are available at Stanford, in addition to 10,000 items acquired from antique dealers.