Teaching a New Map Old Tricks: Using Archival Color

Teaching a New Map Old Tricks: Using Archival Color

Despite my academic training as a geographer, I’ve found it difficult to incorporate traditional cartography into my day to day work.  While I truly appreciate the aesthetic of archival maps (I have many hanging on my walls, including an 1860’s Johnson and Ward), the focus of my work remains interpretation of data, analysis and visualization for print and web.

So, after attending NACIS and exploring some best practices for color in modern cartography in a previous blog post and even blending colors on the fly, I set my sights on exploring some of the beautiful and classic color palettes of archival maps. Though I don’t have the opportunity to do classical cartographic work like digital recreation or archiving, I can find significant inspiration from the muted and sometimes striking color palettes of these maps.

With our instantaneous digital (or print) access to every color on the visible spectrum, it’s fun to imagine the limitation (or inspiration) cartographers once faced in selecting from a finite number of inks and dyes derived from natural materials that were both scarce and expensive to produce.

The below images represent a short selection of some of the most colorful and enchanting archival maps and their corresponding color palettes.




You can find an entire selection of these mappy color palettes on my ColourLovers account.  Each palette includes a link to the corresponding map that inspired the palette.  I hope these will ignite your imagination and inspire some archival charm in your modern map making.