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Now online: The John and Mary Osman Collection


More than 400 beautiful, hand-colored maps from the early 16th and 17th centuries can now be admired and studied online.

The John and Mary Osman Braun and Hogenberg Collection, which includes nearly 400 Braun and Hogenberg maps as well as more than 30 other Renaissance-period maps, has been made easily available thanks to hard-working graduate students and the generosity of donors.

“The Osman Collection was donated to the department by Mrs. John Osman in 1989, and it is a fabulous collection of bird’s-eye views from Renaissance maps of cities around the world, including London, Rome, Milan, Morocco and Mexico City,” said Elizabeth Sudduth, Director of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

“The collection contains a variety of maps, primarily from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Cities of the World) by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg,” Sudduth said. “The Civitates is considered one of the first modern atlases and it captures an exciting look at major cities during the Renaissance. Other cities wanted to be included and they commissioned maps. Those maps, the product of 17th-century crowd sourcing, are included in the later volumes.

 “The maps provide birds’-eye views so you see the entire layout of the city, and the coat of arms of that city is included," she said. “Images of members of the citizenry of that city appear at the bottom of each map. You can look at these maps and then look at a contemporary map and compare the two, noting changes. Seeing an early view of the layout of these important cities is very interesting.”

During the digitization process, research was conducted on the maps that are not part of the Civitates. It was found that those maps are from roughly the same period and include maps that are the work of rival cartographers of the time.

In 2012, Ph.D. in English candidates John Knox and Michael Weisenburg scanned the Braun Hogenberg maps and developed the basic metadata in 2012. Ph.D. candidate Bhavin Tailor began working on the final revisions to the metadata in 2013. His work was sponsored by the Maners Pappas Library Endowment Fund, which is dedicated to digitizing the Irvin Department’s treasures.

“Metadata is critical information about an item,” Tailor said. “In this case, we want to know which city the map depicted and who created it, as well as its size and current city name.

“While I was going through the maps, I found that some didn’t quite fit with the others,” he said. “That led me down a trail of identifying the other maps, finding out who made them and when, and whether or not they were part of other atlases. I knew they were from similar eras to the Braun and Hogenberg. So on the website, you’ll notice that it is broken down into the six-volume Civitates atlas section and an ‘Other maps’ section.”

After completing MFA and PH.D. coursework in English at USC, Tailor now oversees the Writing Center at Allen University in Columbia, and he’s teaching composition and literature courses.

“The map of London gets replicated quite often and I had seen it many times before I began work on this project, but I didn’t know any of the history behind it or where it had come from. So the digitization project was an educational experience for me. I can see using these maps in a future literature class. Some of the maps use scenes from the Bible, and others depict scenes from Ovid and from Virgil’s Aeneid, and I think that any of these would be terrific for use in the classroom.”