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Cartesius: A website full to the brim with unique historical and geographical data

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28/08/2015 - Digitisation - National Archives of Belgium

On 27. August 2015, the Cartesius website was officially launched at the National Archives of Belgium in the presence of the state secretary for science policy and the defence minister. The State Archives, the Royal Library, the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the National Geographical Institute each conserve rich cartographic collections. The four institutions now have joined forces to bring their historical cartographic collections for the first time together to the broad public.

Cartesius already contains tens of thousands of cartographic objects and is gradually fed with additional material. What you can find on Cartesius:

  • old maps from abbeys, cloisters, aristocratic families (for example d’Ursel, Arenberg, de Merode-Westerloo, etc.) conserved at the State Archives
  • Popp maps conserved at the Royal Library
  • aerial photographs of Belgium conserved at the Royal Geographical Institute
  • maps of Central Africa conserved at the Royal Museum for Central Africa

The oldest map on the Cartesius website dates from 1358 and is conserved at the State Archives in Gent.

Cartesius' innovating factor is its geogra­phical search utility - its main search engine. On a present-day map you can select an area for which you would like to find historical maps. The search engine then shows you all available historical maps for this area. You can also searhc by key word, date, scale, etc.

Furthermore, thanks to a public cloud application you can work on old maps, aerial photographs, plans, etc. and create your own map collection. You can merge maps, edit and share them, make additions and give everyone access to them - in short: it is a klind of “Geo-Facebook”.

The development of Cartesius was a long-winded process. The cartographic material had to be digitised, the correct metadata had to be added (description of the data, origin, place of conservation, etc.) and fitted with geolocation/georeference data.

Until recently, the original maps and plans had to be consulted on-site in the reading rooms, but repeated rolling-out/in or folding-out/in  of sometimes large-format maps and plans en plannen took its toll on the documents. Thanks to a policy of large-scale digitising of cartographic material, parts of the collections were already available in digital format in the reading rooms of the State Archives, but thanks to Cartesius, you can now access large parts of the collections online. The State Archives has already digitised 57,000 maps and plans, 41,000 of which are available in the digital reading rooms of the State Archives, and 4,000 via the Cartesius website.

Go and explore!

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