Explanation of the digital exhibition '100 thematic maps'

Dutch cartographers have determined history. Obviously, cartographers such as Abel Tasman, Jakob Roggeveen, Isaac LeMaire of Willem Barentsz are known for their explorations, but Dutch cartographers have also played an important role in the democratization of cartography, through their role in the development of atlases and in the trading of maps. Names such as Willem Blaeu, Johannes Janssonius and Frederik de Wit are most associated with these developments. Less known, is the role that Dutch cartographers have played in the development of thematic cartography. Yet some techniques for the presentation of  exposure of the spatial expansion of specific themes were developed and applied in the Netherlands. One example is the depth chart of the Spaarne, developed in 1854 by Pieter Bruinsz, the official land surveyor of Rijnland. This map presented the first depth contour line ever plotted and was also the first application of the isobar. Today there are millions of weather maps developed daily all over the world that make use of the isobar.

Kaart van het Spaarne, Pieter Bruinsz., 1584

Thematic maps

These are maps that, while providing a contextual background, show either the distribution of intensity or the features of a certain phenomenon. The presentation of this phenomenon also has the strongest graphical emphasis; the foundation can consist of borders, coastal lines and important places, which assist us in orienting ourselves. Initially, geographical features such as vegetation, geology, precipitation and soil were mapped. Later socio-economic phenomena were added, for which different techniques were developed. The majority of the resulting map types originated in the 19th century. Obviously, a condition for the creation of these maps was sufficient observational data in all of the various geographical areas.

De Boven-Merwede, Nicolaas Cruquius, 1730


The exhibition 100 thematic maps displays the development of thematic cartography using examples from the Netherlands. Most of the examples come from the map collections of the Utrecht University Library; however, due to the fact that a number of the highlighted pieces were provided by other Dutch collections, this has become a national initiative.


The purpose of making this selection of maps available via this website is primarily to support education in cartography and its history. Both specializations are offered as fields of study at Utrecht University. In addition, there is a large group of people that are interested in (old) maps and who would like to know more about the development of the techniques described here and the results presented.

Eclipskaart van Europa, Petrus Schenk jr., 1715

Selection criteria

A prerequisite for the maps displayed on this site is that they have been manufactured in the Netherlands or the Dutch colonies. Furthermore, either they must have been significant in the development of thematic cartography, or they must be Dutch examples of important new developments. These developments could be graphical, discipline related or concerned with data collection. For example, the soil map from 1837, by Acker Stratingh from Groningen, is based on a survey among all of the teachers from the province who were asked to taste a sample of the soil from their school grounds, determine the type of soil and submit this information!

Bodemkaart van de provincie Groningen, G. Acker Stratingh, 1837


Every map includes the title, scale, author, publisher (if known), and of course, the bibliographic data so that they can be located in the library. In addition, every map includes a scientific note which explains the significance of the map in the development of thematic cartography with, in some instances, references to relevant related literature. The expert notes were primarily written by prof. dr. F.J. Ormeling jr., Professor of Cartography at Utrecht University. The photography and digitization of the maps was primarily the work of Theo van Pinxteren (ImageFinder).

Contributing Libraries

The digital exhibition includes maps from the following institutions:

  • Rotterdam Municipal Archive
  • The Rijnland District Water Control Board
  • Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands)
  • Tresoar (Frisian Historical and Literary Centre)
  • Library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Utrecht University Library
  • University Library Leiden
  • The Utrecht Archives


The University Library has done its best to identify the copyright holders of the digital maps that are presented here. However, if you hold the copyright to any of the maps represented on this website and have not been contacted by us, please send an e-mail to: m.vanegmond@uu.nl


Kaart van het Rivierengebied met de dijkdoorbraken sinds de 15de eeuw, Doenardus Jacobus Glimmerveen, ca. 1845