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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial data

Resources for Geographic Information Systems and maps, including finding data and tutorials.

Russian Military Topographic Maps

One of my favorite areas of the Herman B Wells Library Map Collection is our collection of Russian military topographic maps of Eastern Europe. The collection contains over 4,000 maps of Eastern Europe that were published by the Russian, and later Soviet militaries from around 1883 through 1947. While Soviet topographic maps from the 1970's and 80's are abundant, our collection contains maps of earlier years and at a more detailed scale. On some of the maps, individual buildings can be clearly seen. The maps were created by the military for internal use and were never meant to be seen by outside eyes. Many of the sheets carry stamps that claim "secret" or "do not distribute", as cartographic Information was held as a close secret by the Russian military during that time. However, in the years surrounding World War II, many were captured in the field by opposing forces, including German and American troops. As a result, myriad stamps from institutions they passed through, such as the University of Berlin, The US Army Map Service, and, the CIA map library, mark the maps with a unique and visual history. As the maps were captured by various opposing forces, each library stamped their maps with their name, allowing us to trace the history of how these maps traveled from Russian and Soviet troops in the field to Bloomington, Indiana. The area covered by the collection includes much of Eastern Europe along the border of what would become the Soviet Union. Changes in political boundaries, war, forced resettlement, and demographic shifts permanently changed Eastern Europe during this time. These maps provide scholars with a unique historical view of the pre-World War II landscape. Because the maps were captured in the field, this means that there are gaps in our collection. IU Libraries received these maps from a cataloging agreement with the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress may have a more complete collection, but their collection is unprocessed. Given that detailed maps of this part of the world are relatively rare for the pre-World War II period, our collection provides researchers with an important tool for studying change over time, as well as locating historical places whose names have changed or that may no longer exist. We were able to digitize this collection thanks to a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, or CLIR. The "Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Enabling New Scholarship Through Increasing Access to Unique Materials" is a national grant competition for digitizing rare and unique content in collecting institutions. This program is supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. We've scanned each of the maps at a high resolution, georeferenced each sheet for use in GIS, and created detailed metadata for each of the 4,000 maps. The maps are richly described as you can see from the numerous metadata fields. Our main goal was to increase discoverability by recording information as printed on the maps, usually in Russian, but also Ukrainian, Finnish, and other languages. We also provide translations in English and transliteration when appropriate. We pay special attention to provenance and location information. We record the information provided by the stamps to document provenance and the various changes in hand. And we also record historical names of city, region, and country of focus, as well as contemporary names. This way, a researcher can get to the maps of interest by searching historical as well as present forms of names. This project would not be possible without funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources, and our amazing team!

View the digitized collection here: Image Collections Online

An interactive index map of the collection is located here:

For more information: