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University cataloguing its repository of rare maps

Providence, USA, 22 November 2006 – Brown University is creating an online catalogue of more than one-thousand rare maps, including several that have escaped popular notice.

One depicts California during 1840s gold rush. It shows gold fields in yellow and marks the best routes to get there in blue. Another map with swastikas depicts Nazi Germany as an alluring tourist destination.

Officials say the push to catalog the artifacts will make them more accessible to the public and help those interested in urban studies, genealogy and other research areas.

Some are brittle with age and more than a century old. A color-coded map dating from 1864 shows the flow of the American Civil War. Confederate territory is marked in red. Land regained by the Union Army is depicted in yellow.

“A good half of the collection wasn’t known to the community,” said Thomas Stieve, a social sciences data librarian who began working on the project after arriving at Brown a year and a half ago. Until now, fewer than half of the maps had been posted online in the Brown library catalog, Stieve said. Of the remaining maps, some were documented on traditional library catalog cards, but for many, there were no records at all.

So far, 98 percent of the maps have been catalogued online in the Brown system, called Josiah, as well as on WorldCAT, a worldwide database where libraries can upload their collections. The university plans to digitize the maps so that Internet users can view them online. The collection is broad, with much of it focused on the Americas and Europe. Some of the maps are so rare that Brown is believed to be the only university to have them, Stieve said.

Many were donated to the university or given as part of a bigger collection. For others, records are spotty at best as to how Brown received them. The 1936 Nazi tourism map, proclaiming “Germany, the beautiful travel country,” was provided by a Brown lecturer whose father visited Germany during that time.