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Fragile maps to be made available to wider audience

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Monday, September 26, 2011

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Media Contact: Bridget Lewis, Office:817-272-3317, Cell:214-577-9094, blewis@uta.edu

ARLINGTON – About 1770, a Franciscan priest captured the topography, missions and presidios north and south of the Rio Grande to reveal the presence of Christianity in portions of the region. This manuscript map, created in ink, watercolor and gold on vellum, was one of the first to show present-day South Texas and what is now the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

This map collection from The University of Texas at Arlington features nearly 250 maps that document the greater Southwest. The maps date from as early as 1665 to 1907.

The map will be among 5,000 historically significant and rare maps – many from The University of Texas at Arlington’s Cartographic History Library – that will be placed on the Portal to Texas History maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries in the new “Mapping the Southwest” project. The project is being funded by a three-year, $314,688 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will provide online access to many of the maps, which are part of the UT Arlington Libraries Special Collections.

The maps that will be digitized by the UNT Libraries’ Digital Projects Unit and placed on the portal particularly emphasize the Gulf Coast and the region of the Greater Southwest — the area that includes modern-day Texas and other southwestern states annexed by the U.S. after the Mexican war of 1846-48. The oldest map that will be placed on the Portal to Texas History is a representation of a world map created by Greek astronomer, geographer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy.

About 250 maps in the UT Arlington collection are already on the portal, with the rest scheduled to be online by April 2013.

“This is the second time that we have collaborated with UNT to include our maps in the Portal to Texas History,” said Julie Alexander, interim dean of the UT Arlington Library. “When we learned that the grant had been approved, it just reinforced the strength of the partnership between the two North Texas institutions, combining our collection with their high end technology and equipment.”

Dreanna Belden, the UNT Libraries’ assistant dean for external relations, said many of these valuable maps are fragile and should not be handled very often. Placing them online, she said, allows them to be viewed by a much wider audience — “researchers, professors, teachers, students, librarians and the general public.”

“UT Arlington on its own is not in a position to undertake such an extensive digitization project, but UT Arlington’s partnership with UNT provides the necessary technological infrastructure and equipment to make UT Arlington’s maps more easily available and widely used than ever before,” Belden said.

The NEH funding allowed the UT Arlington library to hire Leslie Wagner as a project cataloger to create descriptions of the maps.

“I am certain the quality and variety of maps in the collection are going to provide a wealth of information for researchers everywhere,” Wagner said. “I have already found the Portal to Texas History to be a source of materials not available anywhere else. The addition of UT Arlington’s map collection will certainly be a boon to students and teachers alike.”  


Ann Hodges, program coordinator of UT Arlington’s Special Collections, said having a project cataloger available to improve the description of the maps “has been essential to our participation in the project.”

“Those interested in using the maps will benefit greatly from the increased scope and quality of the information being made available about the maps,” she said. “We are very appreciative of the opportunity to collaborate once more with UNT in support of the Portal to Texas History.”   

Jerrell Jones, digital imaging technician for the UNT Libraries, said about 40 maps are being scanned and digitized each week via a camera, energy-efficient copy lights and a vacuum easel. The maps are scanned using a BetterLight scanning back system and then processed for size, detail and color accuracy.

“Once the map is positioned on the easel, we use computer software to check the focus of the camera and image accuracy. We’re able to make real-life representations by using tools like a color profile,” Jones said. “Maps that are deteriorating are definitely a challenge. We are taking care of fragile maps during the scanning process and using digital preservation to get these maps to the people who need them.”

About UT Arlington’s Cartographic History Library

The Cartographic History Library was added to the Division of Special Collections of UT Arlington’s University Library in 1978, two years after Fort Worth attorney Jenkins Garrett and his wife Virginia gave UT Arlington their collection of rare books and archives documenting the history of Texas and the American Southwest. In addition, Virginia Garrett donated her personal collection of more than 900 maps of Texas and the Gulf Coast in 1997. The University Library also acquired all of the items from Edward Eberstadt and Sons of New York, dealers in Americana materials, including a large collection of cartographic materials. In addition, the library added maps and atlases from dealers in Amsterdam, London and New York City to the Cartographic History Library. Today, the collection includes more than 10,000 maps.

About the Portal to Texas History

Created and managed by the UNT Libraries’ Digital Projects Unit, the Portal to Texas History offers more than two million pages of material from archives, historical societies, small and large libraries, museums and private collections from all regions of Texas. The portal emphasizes primary source historical materials, including diaries, personal accounts of events and daily life, newspapers, illustrations and photos, original documents and maps. The portal also includes the Resources for Educators section, which provides history lessons for elementary and middle school students that are compliant with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards.  Visit www.texashistory.unt.edu for more information.

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of nearly 34,000 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.

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