3 Sept 2021

Mapping Prints: Creating A Small-Scale Visualisation Project

Guest post by John Rooney. John is a Senior Library Assistant in Special Collections & Archives, UCC Library.

A key objective of any research repository is ensuring users' awareness of resources and holdings, examining methods for enhancing engagement and access, as well as catering to a diverse range of researchers and learning styles. While increasing points of access is a well-established method for accomplishing this, diversifying the methods by which users can actively engage with the material is also important.

The themes of user variety and dynamic engagement were among the primary drivers behind a small-scale visualisation project I developed while listing a collection of Irish topographical prints held in Special Collections at UCC.

IE BL/CV/TP/Cork/12 The Cork River (from below the Glanmire Road)

Listing Prints

The initial project involved listing a collection of approximately three hundred 18th and 19th century prints. The collection contains a mix of engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, and aquatints depicting locations from across the country, including landscapes, towns, cities, buildings, harbours, and monuments. The prints provide a visually rich record, offering unique perspectives on both familiar and forgotten places. Thanks to resources such as Rosalind M. Elmes' Catalogue of Irish topographical prints and original drawings and NUIG's Ireland Illustrated, 1680-1860, the source of many of the prints could be traced, with the majority having been extracted from illustrated history and travel books. Further details on the listing project can be found on The River-side blog here.

Data and Visualisation

Once the print listing was completed, it was converted into a PDF and uploaded to the Special Collections’ Cartographic Visual LibGuide where it could be accessed and searched by researchers. As the project was coming to an end, I had the good fortune of attending a training day on “Textual Analysis and Data Visualization” run by the Center for Advanced Studies in Languages and Cultures and the departments of Digital Humanities and Italian at UCC, which included a session on mapping data. Despite having spent years working with spreadsheets and databases, I would not consider myself a particularly data conscious individual. However, attending a number of introductory sessions over the past year or so has encouraged me to be more aware of the ways in which even the most basic data can be ultilised and visualised.

IE BL/CV/TP/Kerry/12 Lislaghtin Abbey, Co. Kerry

Coming from the session on mapping data, I was able to formulate a simple project proposal to map the print collection. The aim would be to enhance the profile of the collection by utilising both the visual and geographical nature of the prints, unlocking the potential for greater user engagement and access. 

Mapping Prints

Working remotely during lockdown, I was able to convert the PDF listing into a dataset using the reference, title, date, and description elements as a starting point. I then compiled the longitude and latitude coordinates for each print, noting the accuracy as either "exact" or "approximate" (depending on whether I was able to pin down the exact location). Finally, I added a small number of additional fields for sorting the data and linking back to the original PDF listing.


Sample of Irish Topographical Prints Dataset

Once I had compiled a small sample, I was able to test the dataset in several different mapping tools, including Carto, uMap and Google MyMaps. After examining the features and viability of each tool, I settled on Google MyMaps.

Map of Irish Topographical Prints on Google MyMaps

 When the completed dataset was uploaded, the base map was populated with points based on the co-ordinates I had included for each print. I used the Subject Type field to style the icons for each point according to four main types: "Building", "Landscape", "Townscape" and "Harbour". I was then able to select which fields should be viewable to users. After some final testing, the map was ready to go live.

Navigating Prints

In terms of interaction, researchers now have the option to use a search box and drop-down menu to search for specific topics or locations and can zoom into the map to explore areas of interest.


Exploring Cork on the Map of Irish Topographical Prints

By either clicking on an icon on the map or selecting a title from the left-hand menu, a pop-up side panel appears providing descriptive details together with a thumbnail of the print, with the final field in the side panel containing a link to the full listing for the print on the original PDF.

Thumbnail and Description of an Irish Topographical Print 

The map is now embedded on the Cartographic Visual LibGuide alongside the PDF listing and accompanied by both contextual information and other resources relating to the collection.


Map of Irish Topographical Prints on the Cartographical Visual LibGuide


While the project is quite a basic example of visualisation, it has provided an opportunity to further explore the wide range of Digital Humanities tools and lessons currently available. In this regard, it has also generated discussions around how we might further utilise data to create different access points, draw on our collections in creative ways that encourage interaction, and plan for future projects.


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