British Library makes rarely seen historical globes available for up-close, augmented reality viewing

Digitisation of historical globes at the British Library (c) British Library Board
This month marks the launch of an ambitious British Library project to make 30 historical globes available to all via interactive, digital experiences.

Working alongside the digitisation company Cyreal over the course of two years, imaging specialists at the Library have developed bespoke equipment to photograph and digitise the globes, which form one of the most beautiful but fragile subsets in the British Library’s vast maps collection. The virtual globes will be made available for up-close interaction - including an augmented reality function - on the British Library’s website throughout 2020, with the first seven due for release on 26 March:

  • Possibly the earliest miniature ‘pocket’ globe, from 1679 by Joseph Moxon
  • Willem Janszoon Blaeu’s small table star globe of 1606
  • The unique surviving star globe by Thomas Tuttell, 1700
  • Johann Doppelmayr’s star globe from 1728
  • Richard Cushee’s 1730 terrestrial globe with its unusually late inclusion of the island of California
  • Charles Price’s 1715 globe containing unusual annotations
  • Gabriel Wright and William Bardin’s 1783 globes

Historical globes are a little-known and fascinating element of the British Library’s prestigious map collection which totals approximately 4 million items and includes one of the world’s largest atlases, the Klencke Atlas, which was digitised in 2017. Dating from between around 1600 and 1950, these terrestrial and celestial globes represent three centuries of western scholarly knowledge concerning the world and cosmos. However, because of their fragile nature (caused in part by the cumulative effects of repeated usage, as well as by their materials and methods of craftsmanship) these objects have until now not been as accessible as other types of map in the Library’s collection. Today, they might even be called the ‘missing genre’ of world map.

The digital globes will be available to view on the British Library website – https://www.bl.uk/maps/articles/european-globes-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries - from 26 March, via a viewing platform which includes an augmented reality function (available on phone or tablet via the Sketchfab app). This online access will allow unprecedented up-close interaction with the globes from anywhere in the world and means that for the first time, a variety of previously illegible surface features on the globes can be read. 

Tom Harper, Lead Curator of Antiquarian Maps at the British Library, said“The British Library’s map collection is one of our most well-loved, by researchers and enthusiasts alike. The globes are particularly enigmatic objects with fascinating insights into the history of science and society. Yet for all their ‘show’ they can be remarkably elusive objects which are difficult to properly look at, study and understand. For the first time, this innovative project makes a number of our most important globes available beyond the British Library’s reading rooms and exhibition galleries, to a wider audience and in a more imaginative way than ever before. We are particularly excited about the digitisation technique we have developed with Cyreal for this project, and the exciting possibilities it opens up for the rest of the British Library’s collection.”

 

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Notes to Editors

The British Library offers a commercial digitisation service for external clients. Our in-house team of 3D imaging specialists use multi-shot photography to create interactive 3D models of heritage items such as globes and manuscripts – either at the British Library’s imaging studios at St Pancras, and West Yorkshire or on location. Contact businessdevelopment@bl.uk to find out how the British Library can help enhance items in your collection.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

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