What Disappears When Ancient Documents Get Digitized?

21 Sep

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

The Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine is a treasure trove for the cartographically inclined. Its collection, which contains close to 450,000 items, spans the centuries, covering everything from a Ptolemaic chart of the world to a record of postal routes in the Dakota Territory. For much of the past decade, the library has been working to digitize that collection, carefully photographing many items it owns and presenting them for free online. It’s an effort that speaks to the ambivalent complexities of digitization, especially for archivists and researchers. Above all else, though, it’s an opportunity for the public to look at some astonishing—and frequently beautiful—maps. To better understand the Osher Library’s work, I spoke to Ian Fowler, the facility’s director. Fowler told me about the advanced imaging technology that the library uses, including a 60-megapixel camera used to capture especially large maps, and a new 3D camera…

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