The National Library of Australia (NLA) is using cutting-edge technology to entice a new generation of visitors to an exhibition of some of the world’s oldest and rarest maps and cartographic treasures.

Interactive story maps, digital visualisations and a real-time aircraft tracker are among a series of exclusive, high-tech apps developed by geospatial technology experts Esri Australia, for the NLA’s exhibition Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia.

Visitors will be able to view digital maps and apps of pieces contained within the exhibit via tablet devices.

Those unable to make it to Canberra for the showcase are not forgotten – with the public given access to the exhibit through the apps online.

Esri Australia Chief Solutions Strategist Gary Johnson said the apps use Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to provide valuable insight into some of the world’s greatest maps – some of which are on display in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time.

“The interactive touchscreen applications will provide visitors with access to behind-the-scenes information and historical context to the extraordinary pieces on display – making them more meaningful and accessible than ever before,” said Mr Johnson.

“For example, visitors just need to select a map to instantly access the curator’s personal notes, points of interest, and history – and they can even ‘zoom in’ on the maps for an incredibly detailed and magnified view of the hand-drawings.

“For a truly interactive experience, visitors can also use the apps to watch maps come to life through animation.

“For example, you can see how Australia has taken shape by watching a time lapse of its changing cartography, from the incredibly rare 1663 Dutch map of New Holland – which is often referred to as the ‘birth certificate’ of Australia – to Captain Cook’s 1770  depiction.”

Mr Johnson said in addition to historical maps, the exhibit would also feature the most cutting-edge map ever put on display at the NLA.

“A real-time aircraft traffic map will reveal the current positions of planes travelling around the world – whether it’s from Canberra, New York or Paris.

“Attendees can even contribute to one of the maps on display by leaving their own mark on the digital Visitors’ Book to show where they have travelled from to attend the exhibition.”

NLA Curator of Maps Dr Martin Woods said by showcasing ancient maps with cutting-edge geospatial technology, the exhibition provided a rare look at the evolving role of geography in society.

“Many of us think our 21st century geospatial industry is only as old as digital technology – but the basic principles have been important to mankind’s development for millennia,” Dr Woods said.

“Behind the computer and visualisation technologies we use today is an ancient history of people developing location systems that help them explore the world and navigate life. 

“For example, one of the key works in the exhibition, Ptolemy’s Geographia, embodies the geographic knowledge of the Greco-Roman world.

“Around the second century AD, Ptolemy demonstrated how the globe could be projected on a plane surface and provided coordinates for more than 8,000 places across the known world, expressed in degrees of longitude and latitude,” Dr Woods said.

“In effect, he was creating a blueprint for early geospatial capabilities.”

About Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia
Mapping our World is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see rare and unique cartographic maps from around the world. Discover how European explorers unravelled the secrets of the great south land. Highlights of the exhibition include: the magnificent Fra Mauro Map of the World; the remarkable Boke of Idrography presented to Henry VIII; an intricate world map by the Benedictine monk Andreas Walsperger (1448); a fifteenth-century Ptolemy manuscript; magnificent and controversial ‘Dieppe’ charts; one of only four surviving copies of Mercator’s groundbreaking 1569 projection; and original manuscript charts by Pacific navigators such as Louis de Freycinet, James Cook and Matthew Flinders.

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