Best practice Atlas of the Netherlands: providing access to old maps through digitization(Publicatie)

Presenting old maps in relation to the current geographical situation: that is the basic principle of the digital Atlas der Neederlanden project. A project initially developed as part of the eponymous exhibition in the Amsterdam University Library, the Atlas der Neederlanden gradually developed into a digital database of old maps.

09 JUN 2014

Old maps

Dr. Jan Hartmann, GIS specialist at the University of Amsterdam's (UvA) Geography department, initiated the project: “We were looking for a way to rapidly reconstruct the edges of old maps. We ended up using the HPC Cloud at SURFsara. The HPC Cloud offers so much storage space and computing power that we broadened the scope of the project to include the maps' physical georeference. This allowed us to 'stitch' the old maps together and impose them over current maps with optimal accuracy.”


Georeferencing is a complex process when it comes to old maps, as Hartmann explains: “You can basically project any map on the globe without difficulty. However, the process becomes more complex when you're dealing with old maps, as we don't necessarily know all the relevant parameters. That means you have to find comparable points on the old and new maps. If you want to be accurate, you'll have to distort the old map to get it to fit over the new one. However, that was simply too much effort for the purposes of this project.”


The project was originally initiated as part of the Atlas der Neederlanden exhibition, on display in the Amsterdam University Library until 9 February 2014. “We upgraded the project into a public web service that will be of interest to anyone involved with old maps on a professional or amateur basis”, Hartmann explains. “The website will remain online after the end of the exhibition, and we aim to supplement it with new maps. We're also negotiating with heritage institutions, libraries and museums interested in georeferencing their own cartographic collections.”


Why use the HPC Cloud? “The geographical systems we work with are relatively monolithic”, Hartmann explains. “We mainly use the HPC Cloud as a stand-alone virtual service that provides our own large-scale systems with geographical information.” Hartman is highly enthusiastic about his collaboration with SURFsara: “It was great to take a standardized approach to high-end technology. The staff responsible for supporting and managing the HPC Cloud environment at SURFsara offered us a lot of useful advice. The institution has a wealth of knowledge and its staff are extremely helpful.”

More information

The application can be found at:

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Latest modifications 20 Jul 2017