Voyages, Travels, Geography, Atlases, and Maps

Color map of the Western hemisphere with decorative scrolls on the sides and portions of small circular illustrations in the corners.
Detail of the map "America, siue, India Nova: ad magnae Gerardi Mercatoris aui vniversalis imitationem in compendium redacta" by Michael Mercator, 1606-1630. Call Number: Orbis Maps 1:32.

For many years the collecting of voyages and travels, maps and atlases has been a leading interest of the Department. Travel accounts, atlases, and geographies can be found in almost every collection in the Department while maps occur both as illustrations in books and (when we have them as separate sheets) in their own special collection. Our earliest printed map is the "T-O" map of the world (the oldest known printed map) in the 1472 edition of Isidore's Etymologiae, while our earliest map showing any part of the Americas is the Johan Ruysch map of the world in Ptolemy's Geographia (Rome, 1508).

The collections include many atlases such as the Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of 1612, a Blaeu atlas of China of 1655, books of cities and collections of city plans such as the handsome Civitates Orbis Terrarum of Braun and Hogenberg, Cologne, 1572-1618, collections of voyages (Purchas His Pilgrimes, London, 1625-1626; De Bry's Reisen im Occidentalischen Indien, Frankfurt, 1590-1630; the first collected edition of Dampier's voyages, London, 1729) and many reports of individual journeys such as Wied-Neuwied's Travels in the Interior of North America, London, 1843-1844, with the magnificent Bodmer illustrations of Native Americans; Herberstein's Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii, of which we have five 16th century editions; and Breydenbach's Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam (1486) with its folding views of notable cities of the Mediterranean area. There are also numerous helps for the traveller, like the Elzevir "Republic" series and their companion volume, Phillipe Garnier's Gemmulae Linguarum (1641), a delightful phrase-book which tells the tourist how to protest about bad food and dirty sheets in four languages.

A significant portion of the Ellis Collection of natural history is concerned with voyages and travels, especially with the great voyages of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but not without notable examples from both earlier and later periods. Naturally the emphasis here is on those expeditions which produced some contributions to natural history, like the voyage of the Beagle (1832-1836), the circumnavigation by Bougainville (1767-1769), the French expeditions in search of La Perouse (1791-1794), Sir Hans Sloane's visit to Jamaica (1687), and the voyages of Captain Cook.

Our collection of separate sheet maps began in the late 1920s with a gift of some 160 early maps from Dr. Otto Vollbehr, well-known as a collector of 15th century books. The Department has supplemented these by gifts and purchases over the years, building a collection of over 800 sheet maps illustrating the development of cartography, particularly that of the Americas prior to 1800. Maps of the world showing the Americas range from a first issue of Ortelius' famous "Typus Orbis Terrarum" of 1570, to early nineteenth century maps published in France, Germany and Britain. Included in this group is the most unusual printed map in the collection, the rare Bologna, 1680, edition of the De Wit planisphere. Another important group comprises fifty maps of North America, ranging from a Jansson map of about 1644 to the important British maps of the late 18th century. A significant series, in both original and reproduced form, is composed of numerous versions of the Cruz Cano map of South America, important in the lengthy disputes over the boundaries of Brazil.

Special indexes (a chronological index by date of publication and an alphabetico-classed index of geographical areas) provide ready access to both sheet maps and maps published in books.

Special Collections Contact

Elspeth Healey

Special Collections Curator for post-1700 materials (except the areas listed below)


Eve Wolynes

Special Collections Curator for pre-1700 materials, Asian collections, history of science, maps/cartography