The phrase “important map collection” conjures images of medieval maps with dragons spurting fire at the edges of the world or yellowed charts tracing vanished civilizations.
A 1964 Texaco road map of rural Oregon doesn’t usually fit the ticket.
Yet Stanford University Libraries has acquired precisely that variety of maps in its newest acquisition – more than 13,000 of them. The Robert C. Berlo Road and Street Map Collection includes road maps, Forest Service maps, topographic maps, regional maps and city maps. Some were published by oil companies, others by real estate firms, and others by automobile associations, from the mid-1920s on.
“They’re thought of as ephemera – a map that stays in the car and you use it until you throw it away,” said Julie Sweetkind-Singer, head librarian of Stanford’s Branner Earth Sciences Library and Map Collections. “They’re still too new for people to think of them as old maps. There’s a much larger market for maps that are 200 years old that have sea monsters in them.”
The maps become more than just a collector’s obsession. Berlo has published nine books about data extracted from his map and data collection – for example, the 738-page Population history of California places: an edited compilation and analysis of all known population figures for California cities, towns, counties, urban areas, and the state total, including the Spanish and Mexican era, Part 1.
Stanford will digitize seven of the books, which include thousands of maps that Berlo has made himself. (He’s gone even further in cartographic creation, drawing hundreds of “imaginary maps” by downloading topography maps and envisioning how a city or even a whole state would develop if there were a few more inches of rainfall a year, warmer temperatures or better soil.)
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