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Tip of the Week: David Rumsey Historical Maps and Georeferencer


In my perfect world as a map nerd, I would have grown up living my life as if I were David Rumsey. Make a ton of money and spend that money finding and archiving historical maps. Then figure out ways to share those maps with other people.

Because that sounds like a very sweet way to spend my time.

If you’re not familiar with the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, you need to head over and check out his more than 55,000 maps digitized maps, the more than 150 Google Earth layers, and the nine different mapping tools. Be prepared to spend some serious time here. There is just so much cool stuff.

One of the easiest ways to find handy maps for use in your classroom is to use the

new MapRank search tool. MapRank enables geographical searching of about 12,000 maps from the collection by map location and coverage. Just drag and zoom in on the main search map and available historical maps from that area appear in a list to the right.

But if you’re ready for a real nerdy map experience, you need to play around with their very cool Georeferencer tool. Georeferencer is used to overlay old historical maps on top of modern interactive maps. The Georeferencer can also obviously be used to georeference any of the vintage maps in the David Rumsey online map library.

There are a ton of georeferenced maps already created which is handy but I think putting the Georeferencer tool in the hands of your kids is a great idea. Past and present. Historical and contemporary. Have kids create their own combined maps and then write about similarities and differences, changes over time, impact of geography on historical events, or how maps can be used to distort reality.

Get a sense of what this looks like by scrolling to the bottom of this page and selecting one of the maps already created. I’m a big fan of the Battle of Gettysburg so I really like this one. Here’s one of the state of Kansas. How about a portion of the Oregon Trail as it runs through Kansas?

You going to get a better sense of how the tool works by exploring it on your own. There is a bit of a learning curve but worth it. Very cool!

Have fun!


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jeremy Greene #

    Rumsey not Ramsey, fyi

    February 16, 2015
    • glennw #


      Sheesh. Got it right in article but screwed up the title and first sentence. Weekends were made for napping, not typing.

      Thanks for catching that!


      February 16, 2015

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