Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Digital Technology and the Improvement of Maps

According to Seed, digital technology has played a very important role in pointing out the differences between original maps and their reprints. First of all, digitizing maps has improved the portability of maps, making it easier to carry a digital image of the original map rather than the maps themselves, which were often printed in large, heavy books on thick, coated paper. Scanners also allowed the better reproduction of images in a higher quality, making maps more accurate. The increase in digitization of maps and the better access resulted in the discovery that many printed maps are inaccurate to the original, despite beliefs to the contrary.

Seed says that the printed reproduction of maps can be highly misleading to researchers. Publishers or printers often “touch up” or “improve” the original maps so that they are more aesthetically pleasing, but it alters the spatial history of a map. Imaging departments generally treat maps as pictures and attempt to correct the color or contrast, straighten crooked lines, and eliminate bumps or wrinkles before putting it in a book. According to Seed, a map is not a picture or an illustration. It is not meant for aesthetic, it is meant to convey a specific meaning. While these alterations made by reproduction companies are done with good intentions, they completely change the meaning that the original map was trying to convey. Original maps are intended to have a meaning behind the specific color it uses, the lines are indicative of the spatial relationships, and changing any of these results in a completely different meaning than what was originally intended.

Seed says that when creating or digitizing maps, curators/librarians should be brought into the process of evaluating the digital image of a map rather than being excluded, which can prevent the previously mentioned alterations from happening in the first place. Seed also states that, when a map is altered for publicity purposes, a copyright notice should be placed on the altered image to acknowledge the changes made. This can prevent any mistakes made when researchers use those reproductions as they would the original.


This historical map of Sicily (found on Google Images), when evaluated with Seed’s methods, probably isn’t accurate to the original. Both the color and contrast is very bright and stands out. The lines are all straight, and thus most likely do not convey the actual spatial relationships on the island of Sicily.


  1. Andrew J. Rocha

    October 29, 2015 at 3:14 am

    I liked how you summarized the Seed reading. It made it easier to understand the main points of the reading, so thanks for that.
    At first, I thought that all you were going to do was summarize, which is helpful, but you also added an example (the historical map of Sicily) which really demonstrated the points Seed makes, so again, it was really helpful.
    And the points that Seed makes, I think they are accurate for the most part. I said it in my last post (and probably a couple other posts) digital technology makes research in the humanities easier.

  2. I like the example you included at the end of your post, with the map from Sicily. It looks so pristine and normal to us, because that’s the way we’re used to seeing maps, but it makes you wonder what the original version of that map looks like. I think you drew a lot of solid points out of the readings, particularly when Seed says that curators should be there when their maps are recreated into digital or printed images. That would probably help minimize the inaccuracies that occur with duplicated maps. Maps aren’t just for aesthetics, like you said. They’re meant to tell us something important, whether it be directions or a historical narrative.

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