Skip to Main Content

Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives: Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia

Library of Congress: Geography and Map Reading Room

Introductory Information

Library of Congress: Geography and Map Reading Room

Address: 101 Independence Ave. SE. Madison Bldg, Room LM B01, Washington, D.C. 20540-4650

Telephone number: 202-707-6277

Contact information

Online catalog

Digital Collections link

Research Guides

Access Policies

Hours of service

Open to the public: Yes

Interlibrary loan: Yes, with restrictions

Reference policy: Reference requests are accepted by: Ask-a-Librarian form, telephone, email, in-person

A Library of Congress Reader Registration card is required to use Library of Congress reading rooms. To obtain a registration card, applicants must be 16 years of age or older and present photo identification bearing a verifiable permanent address. Please see Reader Registration and Access to Library of Congress Reading Rooms for more information.

Background note:
Maps and atlases were among the first items acquired when the Library of Congress was established in 1800. It was, however, not until 1897 when the Library of Congress moved into its own building, that a separate Hall of Maps and Charts was created to house the growing collection of maps and atlases. Currently the Geography and Map Division is housed in a 90,000 square foot space in the basement of the James Madison Memorial Building. Today the collections are comprised of over 5.5 million items, including maps, atlases, globes, and GIS datasets. The Division is also working towards digitizing holdings which have fallen into the public domain, improving access to the many gems of our cartographic collections.


Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers

Reference Collection
Our reference collection contains several categories of material that may be of interest in religious research. The Geography and Map Division holds a selection of gazetteers for particular areas which are effectively directories of place names. Our collection of gazetteers covers areas with historical Jewish communities, including one in particular which lists Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust. These resources can often be used to assist in genealogical research and help in clarifying the location of towns and villages whose names may have changed or which may have been wiped off the map.

The reference collection also includes a number of historical atlases which trace the history of various religions. These works like The atlas of Jewish history, for example, feature maps but provide greater descriptions and context regarding the movement of people and the spread of religion over time.

In addition to the above, the Division holds an assortment of other reference materials including resources on Biblical geography and cartography, and materials on Jesuit exploration and cartography. To exclusively search the Division’s reference holdings, when conducting an Advanced Search of the Library catalog, add a limit to search only the location as “Geography and Map Reference Collection".

Cataloged Maps and Atlases
The Geography and Map Division has 105,000 atlases, and 5 million map sheets, an indeterminate number of which are related to religion.

Much of the Library's cartographic collection is cataloged meaning resources are discoverable through our online catalog. Using the Advanced Search feature, users are able to add multiple search terms and apply limits to their queries. To return only cartographic materials in your search, select to Add Limits and under "Locations in the Library" specify the Geography and Map Division.

To locate pertinent religious resources, try searching the following subject terms:

Bible--History of Biblical events--Maps
Church buildings--Maps
Church history--Maps
Ecclesiastical geography--Maps
Missions and missionaries--Maps
Religion and geography--Maps
Religious institutions--Maps
Religious life and customs--Maps
World religions—Maps

Please note that G&M is liable to have many more cataloged maps which display some level of religious information that may not necessarily be categorized by one of the above subject headings. For example, many tourist maps include the locations of churches, mosques, and synagogues which might be pertinent information. In the Advanced Search you may try searching for a particular location and the term “mosques” for example, to yield additional results. Additionally we do have maps cataloged uniquely as Bible Lands which map the geography of lands appearing in the religious text. To find cataloged Bible Land maps, search for “G2230” in our catalog, which will return all relevant materials. To find cataloged atlases search for “G1030”. The Division also has a handful of spiritual maps such as the Map of the Road to Hell from 1858 which depict imaginings of otherworldly places.
Items which are cataloged are not necessarily digitized. Those that are digitized will contain a Links field above the LCCN Permalink section of the record which will allow you to view the material. For access to information on non-digitized cataloged materials, please submit inquiries to our Ask a Librarian service.

Title Collection
In addition to our cataloged collection, the Geography and Map Division holds a significant number of religious content in our title map collection. This collection is organized geographically by countries and U.S. states and then further divided by subjects. We are likely to have pertinent material under the subject “Religion” at the national and state level for the United States, and at the country level internationally.
Easily identifiable as religion-related are the 18 drawers of maps of the Bible lands and the 12 drawers of maps of the Books of the Bible dating through the 20th century. Many of these maps were produced by missionaries for their work or for pedagogical purposes in regular or Sunday school classes. These maps can be used to study the trends in Christian scholarship. Also of interest is the subdivision religion or specific religion under the names of countries. For example, under China one will find the missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church or the religions of India. Besides the obvious usefulness of these topical maps show, any of those created by missionaries will provide good source material on the study of the missionary movement.
For inquiries on our title collection, please submit a question through our Ask a Librarian service.

Databases and/or electronic resources

Digital collections
While the Geography and Map Division does not currently have any thematically religious digital collections, there are several digitized maps which in some way showcase religion. These items can be found online here, and include maps dating from the 16th to 21st centuries.

Other holdings not listed above
The Geography and Map Division includes an assortment of special collections which are not interfiled with our greater catalogued holdings. The two collections below contain material that may be of interest to those conducting religious research.

Jay I. Kislak Collection
The Kislak collection is comprised of almost fourteen hundred rare books, maps, manuscripts, historical documents, graphic works, and archaeological objects related to the history of the early Americas, including the pre-Columbian cultures of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. Several of the items in the collection concern religious practices and traditions of early American peoples. The finding aid for this collection can be found here where one can search for religious materials. Please note that the Kislak collection is divided between the Geography and Map Division and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For help identifying which division holds the materials you are interested in, please contact us via our Ask a Librarian service.

Walter W. Ristow Christmas Card Collection
This collection is composed of roughly 500 Christmas cards illustrated with maps. The maps date from the 1940s-1980s.

Subject Headings

Bible--Geography--Maps; Bible--History of Biblical events--Maps; Buddhism--Maps; Christianity--Maps; Church buildings--Maps; Church history--Maps; Crusades--Maps; Ecclesiastical geography--Maps; Hinduism--Maps; Islam--Maps; Judaism--Maps; Missions and missionaries--Maps; Mosques--Maps; Religions--Maps; Religion and geography--Map; Religious institutions--Maps; Religious life and customs--Maps; Shrines--Maps; World religions--Maps