William L. Clements Library

Map Division


The map collection has been assembled to document the expansion of geographical knowledge of the Americas from the 15th through the 19th centuries, with particular strengths in North American military history, frontier expansion, and the history of cartography itself. Among the 600 atlases and roughly 30,000 maps in the collection is virtually every printed map relating to the United States before 1820, either in original copy or facsimile. These holdings include some 2,000 manuscript maps and large numbers of photostats of manuscript maps from other repositories throughout the world. The Map Division also houses an exceptional collection of bibliographies, promotional and state survey maps of the 19th century, and county atlases of the 1870s and 1880s. The Library maintains an active program of acquisitions through gifts and purchases.

Bibliography of the Map Division

History of the Division

The Map Division has a distinguished tradition, not only because of the richness of its holdings in printed and manuscript maps, but also as one of the first map collections to be treated as a serious historical resource. The Division came into formal existence in 1931 as a result of acquisitions of outstanding map resources during the previous decade.

Essentially a book collector before the Library opened in 1923, William L. Clements had acquired several notable atlases and some exceedingly rare maps bound into books relating to the period of European discovery and exploration of the Americas. However, it was the fortuitous purchase in 1923-24 of the entire 50,000-volume library of Henry Vignaud, an American expatriate scholar of the Discovery Period, which established the Clements as an outstanding cartographic repository. The Vignaud Collection included almost all editions of the great atlases of the 15th through 18th centuries by Ptolemy, Mercator, Blaeu, Ortelius, and other Italian, Dutch, German, English, and French map makers. Simultaneously, Mr. Clements purchased en bloc the unsurpassed collection of printed maps of the American Revolution that had been assembled by the London bookselling firm of Henry Stevens.

Soon after the Library opened, Mr. Clements turned his attention to acquiring manuscript collections of British military and political figures active in American affairs between the 1750s and 1780s. With each of these massive collections came hundreds of individual manuscript and printed maps of the American colonies, fortifications, and battles from the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. These collections became a part of the Library's holdings with the settlement of the Clements estate in 1937.

Throughout the 1920s, the Clements also systematically collected photostats of American maps in European archives and added facsimiles of the Erskine Maps at the New-York Historical Society and manuscript maps in the collections of Henry E. Huntington. By the mid-1930s, the Clements had become the pre-eminent collection of American maps of the 18th century and was among the finest general resources for the history of cartography in the world. Acquisitions since that time have strengthened the earlier components of the collection and broadened its scope into the mid-19th century. The Library currently collects American cartography to 1900 and is strongest for the years from European discovery through the Civil War.

Using the Collection

It has long been the policy of the Library to catalog every map relating to the Americas, whether it is held as a separate iems or bound into an atlas or book. The existing card catalog is available at the Library, but it is also being converted to make the information accessible online. A significant percentage of the collection is now searchable in U-M Library Catalog Search, the online catalog of the University of Michigan. Maps may be found by author, title, geographic location, or under a limited number of subject headings. A complete listing of manuscript maps is accessible under the local subject heading "Brun Guide."