Stichting Vrijwilligersproject EXPLOKART

Self Assessment Report 2000-2006

Programme URU-4: History of Cartography

Main Explokart Page
Contents of this page:

Research area and mission

The research programme focuses on analytical carto-bibliography: the analysis and reconstruction of Dutch cartography from the early modern age to the end of the 20th century. The mission is formulated as follows:

  • to reconstruct geo-information products: in-depth research of early maps, groups of maps, atlases, and globes;
  • to make geo-information products accessible for research: the compilation of analytical carto-bibliographies;
  • to reconstruct and analyse geo-information flows, production, and use: to research the organisation of mapping and map production by official institutions or societies.
Programme leader(s) during the review period: Dr Peter van der Krogt

Previous leadership: Prof. Günter Schilder (until August 2004)

Starting date of the programme: 1981


Dr Peter van der Krogt has been the programme leader of the research group since September 2004. Prof. Günter Schilder, chair of the History of Cartography, was programme leader until August 2004.

This research programme is the smallest group within URU. In December 2006, the permanent staff amounted to only 1.3 fte research time, divided over four people (Dr Peter van der Krogt, Dr Paul van den Brink, Prof. Ferjan Ormeling, and Dr Marco van Egmond). The temporary staff includes an NWO researcher (Dr Robert van Gent) and two PhD researchers (Drs Martijn Storms and Drs Elger Heere). Dr Van der Krogt has 0.62 fte research time. Individual staff members are all qualified researchers and are largely responsible for their own research. Current research projects are discussed in staff meetings (four times per year) and in frequent personal communications; the progress of the research is checked and brainstorming on new initiatives takes place. Staff members all have rooms next to each other, so communication lines are very short.

Within this programme, research projects are carried out by small groups or even by single researchers. Experience has shown that personal responsibility for a specific project has a positive effect on the output.

Besides the staff, several volunteers are working in the research programme. These volunteers are stimulated and supervised by the staff under the responsibility of the programme leader. In 1993 the staff started tutorials in carto-bibliography for volunteers, who later formed part of a working group involved in a specific subject, usually a carto-bibliography belonging to this research theme. Because these research projects lie partly in other fields of scholarship, appropriate associate supervisors have been invited to take part, such as Prof. Paul Hoftijzer of Leiden University for general book history, Prof. August den Hollander of the University of Amsterdam for the history of the publication of Dutch bibles, and Prof. Hans Mol of the Fryske Akademy for the carto-bibliography of Friesland. The efforts of highly competent volunteers have made it possible to study topics in historical cartography that would otherwise have been left unattended by the tenured staff because of lack of time.

This research group is the only European academic research group specialised in the history of cartography. Contacts and co-operation without formal affiliations exist with the History of Cartography Project in Madison (Wisconsin), Imago Mundi Ltd., the International Cartographic Association, Vereniging Geo-Informatie Nederland (Association of Geo-Information in the Netherlands), and Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap (Royal Netherlands Geographical Society).

Strategy and policy

At the beginning of the 1990s, Utrecht University developed a policy aimed to protect and stimulate small-scale research by means of a multi-year plan providing financial support as a structural guarantee facilitating the uninterrupted contribution of this research to the sum of scholarly activities within the University. This policy was termed the Pearl Policy. A research project considered eligible to be nominated a pearl had to meet a number of criteria: the research had to be unique at the national level, the researcher must hold a prominent international position, and the work must be of high scientific quality. In addition, the research must have historic roots in Utrecht University such that would help define the image of the University, and the work must be carried out by only a small number of researchers. On 23 October 1996 the Board of Governors Senate of Utrecht University allocated the status of 'pearl' to the History of Cartography research group.

The starting point of the research programme was the reconstruction of the cartographic communication process: collecting, processing, designing, producing, contemporary use, and present use of the historical research of cartographic documents made in the past (where 'past' is not translated into a number of years).

Although historical cartography is generally understood to be an auxiliary science of geography and history, this field of study is increasingly perceived as an autonomous discipline within the geosciences with its own methods and critical examination of sources, as well as its own concepts and definitions. This development is expressed not only in the robust growth of historiography, but also in the multitude of interdisciplinary applications, analyses, and related research issues that have been developed in this field.

Within the domain of historical cartography, two central lines of research can be distinguished with regard to the analysis of maps, atlases, and globes. On the one hand is the predominantly bibliography-oriented approach, which starts from the premise that a cartographic document can only be understood if its complex genesis, in particular in relation to other documents, is embedded in the bibliography and the study of the original source material. Only when this basic condition is fulfilled is it possible to understand an early map in its various contexts. This line of research interprets the contents of early maps as documents.

The second line of research argues that early maps have to be studied as artefacts "in their own right and as a graphic language that has functioned as a force for change in history" (J.B. Harley in The History of Cartography, vol. 1, 1987, p. 39). This distinction with regard to the definition of historic-cartographic research and questions related to it has not led to any divergence. On the contrary, interaction between the two lines of research has been extensive.

The research group is a world leader in the first research line, the bibliographic-oriented approach. The group has been able to maintain itself and further develop as a leading international research group in the field of analytical carto-bibliography. In the last few years, numerous projects have been initiated which, starting from a systematic bibliographic research, have created a permanent basis for the discovery, analysis, and description of the various commercial, scientific, and administrative traditions that have always been linked with Dutch cartography.

The results of historic-cartographic research are normally published not in academic journals, but in monographs and multivolume series. These monographs are often large. An analytical carto-bibliography is not suitable for publication as an article in a journal, simply because of its size. Theory and research methods are usually discussed in the introduction to these monographs and occasionally in the single peer-reviewed journal in the field, Imago Mundi, published twice a year.

An interesting new development within the field of historical cartography is the interaction with computerised geographical-information systems. Within the research programme, Drs Elger Heere's PhD study to develop historical GIS to accommodate the contents of historical cartographic documents is a clear example of this new direction of research.

The strategic objectives of the research group can be translated into three research themes (see also the Explokart research page:

  • reconstruction of geo-information products;
  • accessibility of geo-information products;
  • reconstruction and analysis of geo-information flows, production and use.
Theme 1: Reconstruction of geo-information products

This research theme comprises a worldwide investigation of early maps, atlases, and other cartographical products, usually published in the Low Countries. The research aims to analyse the cartographical material extensively. Each map or atlas or group of maps is analysed in respect to sources, place in the history of mapping, and importance for present-day research in history, historical geography, art history, iconography, et cetera.

The results are published (in English) in monographs, accompanied by - wherever possible - full-size facsimiles of the most significant maps. In this manner, these rare and sometimes unique documents are made accessible to cartographers, historians, art historians, and others throughout the world.

Research projects within this theme:

  • Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica. This study comprises a worldwide investigation of maps published in the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. The maps discussed are selected for their historical value (seven of nine volumes now published).

  • Maps of the Netherlands and its colonies from the early 20th century (published in 2003 and 2005). The study comprises an analysis of the cartographic work that both enabled and followed the Dutch expansion overseas beyond a few trading emporia and is interesting because of its quality and organisational scope.

  • Manuscript maps of the Netherlands East-India Company (first volume published in 2006, other volumes in preparation or planning).The study aims primarily at the maps made by order of the Dutch East-India Company (VOC), which are often the first accurate cartographical documents of the countries of South and Southeast Asia

Theme 2: Accessibility of geo-information products

The second research theme is aimed at the compilation of analytical carto-bibliographies. The main difference from the first research theme is that not only selected individual maps or atlases are researched, but also a complete overview is given of all the cartographical documents meeting the requirements of the carto-bibliography in question. An analytical carto-bibliography often concerns maps of a certain region, but also maps of an individual map maker or maps around a specific theme can be the field of research. Maps are placed in the wide context of similar maps. The researches usually consist of two parts. The first is an analysis with special attention paid to the sources and the relationships between the individual maps or atlases. The second part is an analytical description of the individual objects. The results of the research are published in monographs or in a series of volumes.

Research projects within this theme:

  • Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici. This is an investigation of atlases published in the Netherlands from the 16th century up to the 20th century (three of ten volumes now published).

  • Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem. This project involves the publication of a catalogue of this collector's atlas with 2,400 maps, plates, views, and drawings with relevant cartographical, historical, and art-historical notes (five of six volumes published, final volume to be published in 2007).

  • Celestial atlases, globes, and maps printed in the Low Countries up to 1850. An inventory of the publications charting the heavens (or the celestial sphere in particular) printed in the Low Countries up to the middle of the 19th century.

  • Van Keulen Cartography. The main aim of this project is to locate, study, and catalogue the manuscript charts of the Van Keulen Company (published in 2005).

  • Christian Sgrooten. Edition of the complete cartographical oeuvre of Christian Sgrooten (1520-1604) (Published in 2007).

  • Carto-bibliographical projects executed by volunteers under the supervision of the staff. The results of this research are published in the series Utrechts Historisch-Kartografische Studies (Utrecht Studies in Map History). Five volumes were published between 2000 and 2006.

Theme 3: reconstruction and analysis of geo-information flows, production and use

The third research theme features the analysis of geo-information flows, production, and use and is therefore not particularly concerned with specific maps.

  • Covens & Mortier (PhD research by Dr Marco van Egmond). This research investigates the role of the Covens & Mortier firm in 18th- and 19th-century commercial cartography (completed in 2005).

  • The cartographical work of Von Derfelden van Hinderstein (1783-1858) (PhD research by Dr Piet Broeders). Derfelden was the author of two maps, one of the River Lek and one of the Dutch East Indies. The study's main objectives were to trace the different channels of information, the significance of the maps for the Dutch and colonial societies, and the place of these maps in the history of cartography (completed in 2006).

  • The use of estate atlases (PhD research by Drs Martijn Storms). The information in the maps and tables of the estate atlases (16th century -18th century) is highly valuable for research in different historical disciplines. For an optimal use of these sources, the value and accuracy of the information will be analysed.

  • The use of GIS in historical cartography (PhD research by Drs Elger Heere). This research project consists of two parts. In the first, the opportunities for the use of computers, with the emphasis on GIS, in historical cartography will be investigated. The second part is a user's research project. An attempt will be made to get to know more about the strategies the users of early maps have developed in their use of early maps, and in their use of computers in their research.

  • Mapping activities of the Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap (Royal Netherlands Geographical Society). The role of this Society is examined by contextualising the many-sided cartographic initiatives taken since its inception in 1873 until the end of World War II (publication in 2008).

  • Development of thematic cartography in the Netherlands and its overseas territories. This research project aims to establish the use of cartographic visualisation techniques in order to inventorise, analyse, and communicate the results of research into the geosciences and statistical surveys not only in scientific publications, but also in educational materials.

Processes in research, internal and external collaboration

Although the research is concentrated in the first instance on making a lasting, coherent contribution to the domain of science, the research group also finds it important to make its knowledge and expertise in teaching and research available to a large group of people actively engaged in the collection and study of cartographic documents outside the field of science. Members of the research group stimulate interest in historical cartography and promote its social relevance by organising workshops, giving lectures, organising (or participating in the organisation of) exhibitions, participating on the editorial boards of journals, conducting seminars, and supervising volunteers.

National and international co-operations

  • Within URU there is co-operation with GIS/Cartography and History of Geography in the supervision of two PhD researchers;

  • In the assessment period, the text was prepared for Volume III of the History of Cartography project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These texts were originally written in the late 1980s by Professors Koeman and Schilder. Because of a serious delay in publication - now scheduled for 2007 - the texts had to be revised and several new chapters added. These revisions and additions were made by Prof. Günter Schilder, Drs Marco van Egmond, and Dr Peter van der Krogt.

International conferences

  • As directors of Imago Mundi Prof. Günter Schilder and Dr Peter van der Krogt have been involved in the organisation of the International Conferences on the History of Cartography, held in Madrid (2001), Cambridge (Mass.)/Portland (Maine) (2003), and Budapest (2005).

  • In September 2006, four members of the group (Dr Van der Krogt, Prof. Ormeling, Dr Van den Brink, and Mrs Paula van Gestel) organised the International Symposium on Old Worlds-New World: History of Colonial Cartography 1750-1950.


  • In 2000, Dr Van der Krogt co-operated in the organisation of the exhibition Early Globes at the Stewart Museum in Montreal, Canada. He assisted in the choice and description of the objects, wrote the introduction to the book accompanying the exhibit (Sphæræ Mundi), and presented a keynote speech at the opening symposium.

  • In 2002, Dr Van der Krogt was consultant and presented the keynote speech at the opening of the exhibition Columbus, Cook & Co.: Nautische Instrumente, Seekarten und Reisebeschreibungen aus fünf Jahrhunderten (Nautical instruments, sea maps and travel descriptions from five centuries) in the Johannes a Lasco Bibliothek Emden.

  • In 2003, Dr Van der Krogt and Prof. Ormeling were consultants in the exhibition Open kaart: hoe kaartenmakers de wereld verbeelden (Open maps: how map makers imagined the world) in the Utrecht University Museum.

  • In 2003, Dr Van den Brink was one of the organisers of the exhibition Met kapmes en kompas (With knife and compass) in the Koninklijk Insitituut voor de Tropen (Royal Institute for Tropical Countries) in Amsterdam and the Head Office of the Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds (a pension fund) in Heerlen. He developed the theme, supervised the compilation of the catalogue, and organised a film festival dedicated to the Dutch expeditions of the 20th century.

  • In 2005, Prof. Ormeling was consultant for the exhibition De magie van de Bosatlas (the magic of the Bosatlas). In 2006, Ormeling was consultant for the exhibition on maps Waar ben ik? (Where am I?). Both exhibitions were held in the Nationaal Onderwijsmuseum (National Museum of Education) in Rotterdam.

  • Co-operation with commercial publishers resulted in books on the history of cartography for the general public. Dr Van der Krogt wrote for Taschen Verlag Joan Blaeu Atlas Maior of 1665, followed by six volumes with the Blaeu maps of different countries. Dr Van Gent wrote for the same publisher Andreas Cellarius Harmonia Macrocosmica, The finest atlas of the heavens.

Academic reputation

'The globally important Explokart programme arguably puts Utrecht second only to Madison, Wisconsin, as the most productive centre in the history of cartography' (Francis Herbert, review of Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici, vol. II, in Imago Mundi, 55, 2003, p. 130). On the series Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica, a reviewer wrote: 'one is faced with one of the most ambitious and useful publications ever to grace the history of cartography, and one that will still be consulted a century from now' (Robert W. Karrow Jr., review of Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica, vol. VII, in Imago Mundi, 58, 2006, p. 102).

The researchers in the History of Cartography (Explokart) programme are all part of the relevant national and international networks and participate in international symposiums and congresses. Members of the programme also serve on the editorial boards and advisory boards of professional journals.

Membership of international boards

  • Prof. Günter Schilder and Dr Peter van der Krogt are Directors of Imago Mundi Ltd., the organisation responsible for the publication of Imago Mundi and organisation of the biannual International Conference on the History of Cartography.

  • Prof. Ferjan Ormeling is Secretary General of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) and supervises the three commissions and working groups on the history of cartography within ICA. He is a member of the advisory board for volume VI of the History of Cartography project and co-organiser of several symposiums.

International and national awards

  • Dr Van der Krogt received the Sir George Fordham Award for carto-bibliography in 2002. This prize is awarded by the Royal Geographical Society every three years. The decision of the assessment panel was based in particular on the continuing work on the multi-volume new edition of Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici.

  • In 2005, Dr Van der Krogt was awarded the IMCoS-Helen Wallis Award. This prize is given annually by the International Map Collectors Society in recognition of the cartographic contribution of greatest merit and widest interest to map collectors world-wide.

  • In 2005, Volume III of Van der Krogt's Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici was nominated for the 14th award of the ILAB-LILA Prize for Bibliography.

  • Prof. Ormeling was elected an honorary member of the Netherlands Cartographic Society in 2000 and received the GIN-Cartography award in 2005 for his work in atlas cartography.

  • Prof. Schilder received the knighthood of the Order of the Dutch Lion on 16 February 2007 for his contributions to research of the Dutch cultural heritage. On the same day he was awarded the Plancius medal by the Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap in recognition of his tremendous contributions to the history of geography.

Internal evaluation

During the evaluation period 2000-2006, the programme produced several PhD theses and book publications:

  • Dr Marco van Egmond (2005) and Dr Piet Broeders (2006) successfully defended their theses; currently, two PhD researchers, Drs Martijn Storms and Drs Elger Heere, are working on their theses, which they hope to complete in 2008. For PhD research, the programme co-operates with the chair in Cartography (Prof. Ferjan Ormeling). Heere's research takes place in collaboration with GIS/Cartography (URU-1).

  • Two volumes were published in the projects Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici and Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica. Three volumes of the Catalogue Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem were published.

  • Co-operation with the publisher Asia Maior resulted in the first of seven volumes of the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company and the Comprehensive Atlas of the Netherlands East Indies.

The present situation is that almost all the available research time will be needed to continue with the ongoing research projects. Further large-scale new initiatives will only be possible when one of the ongoing projects ends. In the next few years, more attention will be paid to the 19th century cartography of the Dutch colonies in co-operation with the publishers Asia Maior.

Volunteer projects

The volunteer projects, started in the early 1990s, have received considerable interest and commendation from other countries; as far as we know, as yet no similar volunteer projects have been started elsewhere. The first result of the volunteer working groups was published in the series Explokart Studies in the History of Cartography in 2000: the carto-bibliography of the province of Holland. Four other volumes followed in the period 2000-2006.

Most of the projects started in the 1990s will be finalised in the next couple of years. Only a few new volunteer groups will be started up.

External validation

The scientific results of the Explokart research are disseminated in seven ways:

  • Monographs and multivolume series for the scientific community. Prof. Günter Schilder has published the Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica since 1986; Dr. Peter van der Krogt has published the Catalogue of the Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem since 1996 and Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici since 1997. Volunteers publish volumes edited by staff members in the series Utrecht Studies in the History of Cartography.

  • Monographs in co-operation with third parties. Prof. Günter Schilder co-operated in the Van Keulen project, resulting in the publication in 2005 of Van Keulen Cartography. Prof. Günter Schilder, Dr Paul van den Brink, and Prof. Ferjan Ormeling co-operate with the KNAG (Royal Netherlands Geographical Society) and the Asia Maior publishing house in the publication of a series of large atlases featuring the 19th and 20th century cartography of the Netherlands and its colonies, and the VOC cartography.

  • Professional publications. All members of the research group publish regularly in professional and popular journals, such as Caert-Thresoor, Kartografisch Tijdschrift, and Geo-Info: Tijdschrift voor Geo-Informatie Nederland. Drs Martijn Storms and Drs Elger Heere write an internet column for Caert-Thresoor.

  • Publications outside the scientific community, usually externally funded. Dr Peter van der Krogt and Dr Rob van Gent have both published through Taschen Verlag on Blaeu and Cellarius respectively. Prof. Dr Ferjan Ormeling has published through Wolters-Noordhoff.

  • Scholarly papers. Members of the group are active in presenting papers at the International Conference on the History of Cartography, the Kartographiehistorisches Colloquium, and at the Conferences of the International Cartographic Association, as well as at all the symposiums organised by working groups of the ICA, and at study sessions organised by the working group on the history of cartography of Geo-Info Nederland and by the Brussels International Map Collectors Circle.

  • Co-operation in the organisation of exhibitions and catalogues (see above).

  • Lectures outside the scientific community. Since a wide public finds the history of cartography an attractive discipline, members of the group are regularly asked to present papers for local historical societies.

Analysis, perspectives, and expectations for the research programme


  • The programme can be seen as one of the world's leading research groups in the field of analytical carto-bibliography.
  • The publication of a large number of books can be seen as one of the principal assets of the programme in the past seven years.
  • The group, especially the programme leader, is well-represented in the most important international committees and organisations in the field of the History of Cartography.

  • The small number of staff members limits the possibilities to undertake research. The research depends on two permanent staff members, both, at present, assistant professors.

  • A large number of new research themes has been identified. Future PhD- and other researchers can, as in the past, explore completely new fields.

  • In the present situation, expansion and rejuvenation of the staff is impossible and without new, younger researchers the research programme is vulnerable.
Perspectives and expectations for the research programme

The main short-term aim of the research group is to avoid becoming a marginal research group or even to disappear. To achieve this aim it is necessary to:

  • appoint a(n extraordinary) professor for the history of cartography. The Stichting Historicae Cartographiae Cathedra, founded in 2006, is fundraising for an extraordinary professorship.
  • rejuvenate the staff: the possibility of external funding of PhD researchers is being investigated by the same Stichting Historicae Cartographiae Cathedra.
The first research aim of the group for the next few years is to complete the current long-term projects such as the Monumenta, the catalogue of the Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem, and the volunteer projects. These projects will be completed around 2010. Finishing the Atlantes Neerlandici will take longer.

The group has, however, to be realistic. With the very limited staff numbers, further future plans also have to be limited, since overdependence on volunteers is not a secure basis for continuity. The strategy for further future research consists of the following elements:

  • The investigation of more recent maps. This research line was started in the 2000-2006 evaluation period and will be developed further. Fields here are the pre-topographic mapping of the Dutch East-Indies (1750-1850) and the mapping of the Dutch West-Indies (Suriname and Dutch Antilles). This research will also be used for a Concise Atlas of the Netherlands West Indies, comparable with its sister volume of the East-Indies, published in 2003.

  • Co-operation with the other URU research clusters has to be enhanced. Here we intend to start a research line on representation that will study the images projected by 17th-19th century town maps and plans produced in the Netherlands. The first PhD researcher in this field (dealing with the mapping of Amsterdam) is expected for 2009.

  • More use of the geographical information systems and other computerised systems as research tools in the history of cartography. For the research on the accuracy of the Atlas Isaak de Graaf, new digital analytical methods have been used that shed new light on the provenance of the source material. Experiments with new digital overlay techniques are already in progress in the current Historical Cartography/GIS PhD-project.

  • As a follow-up of current projects, such as the Concise Atlas of the Dutch East India Company (2006), a 6-volume series on the various Asian trading scenes of this company is envisaged (Ceylon, India, China and Japan, Java and Sumatra, Moluccans).

Laatste keer gewijzigd: door Peter van der Krogt