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Diving Deeper Shorts: Historical Maps and Charts

Episode 27 (September 12, 2013)

HOST: The Office of Coast Survey is home to a historical map and chart collection with more than 35,000 scanned images covering offshore and onshore areas including things like the nation's earliest nautical charts, city plans, and even Civil War battlefield maps. Today on Diving Deeper Shorts we will revisit our interview with Meredith Westington on the Historical Map and Chart Collection.

Let's listen in.

HOST: Meredith, what exactly is a historical map or chart?

MEREDITH WESTINGTON: Well Kate, in the context of NOAA's Historical Collection, a historical map or chart is any map or chart that's not used today because it's out of date. The product may not list the most current navigation obstacles, water depths, or shoreline--just to name a few items that are frequently updated on NOAA's nautical charts which are produced by NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. Other maps may depict historical events against the geographic landscape at that time. Our collection of maps depicting the Civil War battle sites are good examples.

HOST: How far back do our maps and charts go?

MEREDITH WESTINGTON: Well, that's an interesting question. Our collection of historical maps and charts dates to the 1700s, but the Office of Coast Survey, which formed in 1807 as the first federal scientific agency, produced its first charts in the early 1840s. That was after several decades of fundamental land-based and offshore survey work.

Some interesting things that you might find in the collection are from 1803 we have the King Plats of the City of Washington, which are public streets rights-of-way in Washington, DC. We have sketches of Anacapa Island in California which is from 1854, it was created by James McNeill Whistler, who some may remember for his great works of art, but he was actually employed briefly at the Office of Coast Survey as an engraver. And we also have a Chattanooga battlefield map from 1863 which is considered one of the best Civil War maps at that time. It's a far ranging collection.

HOST: How can the public access these charts and maps?

MEREDITH WESTINGTON: Well, you can go to the Office of Coast Survey website, which is nauticalcharts.noaa.gov, and from there you can link to the Historical Map and Chart Collection or you can go directly to our website by adding "/history" to our URL. From there you can click on a link to browse the collection. You can search by a number of parameters. You can preview the images and you can download the images. All the images are available to the public for free.

HOST: That's all for today's Diving Deeper Shorts, thanks for tuning in. Want to learn more? See our show notes for a link to the full episode. Diving Deeper is back in two weeks.

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