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Russia and its Empire in Eurasia: Cartographic Resources in the Library of Congress

This research guide assists in identifying maps and atlases of Russia and nations formerly governed by Russia in the collections of the Library's Geography and Map Division.


Russia, as the biggest and one of the more prominent nations on earth, undoubtedly has received a share of cartographic coverage commensurate with its size and influence. The collections of the Library's Geography and Map Division certainly reinforce that proposition, for they contain what probably is the largest and most comprehensive collection of printed maps, atlases, and charts of Russia in the world, if not possibly outside of Russia itself.

Johann Treskot and Jacob Schmidt. Tabula geographica generalis Imperii Russici ad normam novissimarum observationum astronomicarum concinnata. 1776. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The Russian empire expanded across northern Eurasia and even into North America during the reign of the Romanovs (1613-1917). By the second decade of the twentieth century the bulk of that territory had fallen under the authority of the Soviet Union. After seventy years the Soviet titan collapsed, liberating fifteen of its former republics who emerged from the rubble and attained sovereign status, while a few others continue to clamor for official recognition. Because these states have appeared only relatively recently, the bulk of their cartographic coverage is either Russian or Soviet in origin, and only within the past decade or so have a few have begun establishing national mapping traditions of their own.

As one would expect, the maps come at all levels of coverage, i.e. national, regional, administrative sub-division, and municipal; at all scales of representation; individually or in sets of multiple sheets; and in a variety of subject categories at each level. With regard to dates they range across the centuries -- although most are from the twentieth -- and concerning their publication they arose from a variety of creators and sources. And, to anyone who has consulted cartographic materials internationally, the Library's collection of maps and atlases of Russia are likely more accessible than those elsewhere. As the title of this research guide indicates, the author has elected to incorporate maps and atlases of most of the lands that were once part of the Imperial Russian Empire and Soviet Union across Eurasia, including the currently independent nations of Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and the constituent republics of the Baltics, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Excluded for the sake of brevity, however, are the Eastern European satellite states of the twentieth century and, of course, Russian Alaska.

Researchers should not assume that the Library's cartographic collections of Russia are definitive, as they do not include a copy of every map, atlas, or device ever produced or published. The collections are, however, comprehensive, covering imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, and modern Russia from about the middle of the sixteenth century until the present day. If a particular map or atlas does not appear on the Library of Congress online catalog or was not included in this research guide, the curious and persistent researcher will contact the Geography and Map Division via Ask a Librarian to ascertain its status among the collections of the Library of Congress.

Identifying the Materials

Researchers face the task of navigating the collections and identifying the the correct resources. The major obstacle for both seasoned and casual researchers of Russian history and geography among the Library's collections is that many of the Russian-related cartographic collections are not included in the institution's primary finding aid, the Library of Congress online catalog. Indeed, only about one half of the maps pertaining to Imperial Russia and the former Soviet Union have been listed and described on the online catalog, which by and large is the first resource researchers turn to when attempting to identify maps and atlases. Furthermore, many catalog entries pre-date the implementation of the Library's MARC catalog system, and thus remain unverified and/or incomplete. Not seeing an item or items on the online catalog regrettably leads many researchers to believe that the Library does not hold them. No outcome could be worse for either a researcher or a cartographic librarian.

The total number of uncataloged single maps of Russia and the former Soviet Union, including European Russia, the Russian Federation, the nations of the Caucasus and Russian Central Asia, Siberia and the Russian Far East, as well as the pre-independent Baltic states, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, consists of approximately 7,240 items housed in 207 drawers for the period ranging from about 1600 to 1975. The other category of maps, namely those within sets or series consisting of two or more sheets, number roughly several hundred thousand, many without modern catalog records or graphic indexes noting available coverage. Others await cataloging and integration into the collection.

Those simple figures reflect the enormity of the material not represented in the main Library of Congress catalog by separate records, and thus hidden from researchers. These materials include single printed maps; photocopies of printed or manuscript maps; plates from atlases, books or periodicals; and printed facsimiles. The maps cover regions, administrative areas, and municipalities, and they also show various subjects, including roads, railroads, administrative and political divisions, physical geography, topography, ethnography, etc.

Hence, this research guide on cartographic resources on Russia hopes to fill a gap, if only in part. Because the collections are so corpulent, we must restrict our list to a select few, which can serve as a jumping-off point for further research and give researchers some idea of the breadth and depth of the collections, somethings that may not be evident merely from a simple catalog search.

The Inclusion of Nations No Longer Part of the Russian Empire

The relationship of the fact of prior Russian rule to changing interpretations of history unavoidably raises uncomfortable feelings among modern students regarding the need to associate Russian and non-Russian cartographic materials with areas no longer under Russian control yet all at some point having been part of the Russian Empire. In anticipation of some controversy, the author would like to make his case, since all of the included non-Russian nations share similar characteristics.

At the outset all, though independent today, were at one time or another governed by Russia as part of its empire; consequently, they have retained Russian influences to some degree (whether they want to or not). Furthermore, their newly-established self-rule, strengthening national identities, and increasing independence from Russian oversight in the modern era continue to be challenged by Russian foreign policy and/or Russian involvement (whether they want them to or not). Also compelling is the fact that the borders of most remain contiguous with those of the modern Russian Federation, which presents quite a bit of unavoidable overlap in cartographic coverage, even for those whose lands remain relatively close but with no contact. And last, but not least, all are represented by Russian-created maps, especially in the twentieth century. For a few, in fact, their only cartographic representation in the Library is Russian and/or Soviet in origin.

As an example, let us look at the current situation of the independent Republic of Belarus. Originally inhabited by East Slavs, the nation's political life began as a set of principalities within Kievan Rus'. Prompted largely by the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century, those land became integrated into of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which subsequently constituted one half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a series of partitions from 1762 to 1795, Russia annexed the territory in it entirety, and for 190 years ruled it as a series of governorates within the Russian Empire. At the end of the Russian Civil War Belarus was transitioned into the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Following several long years of Nazi rule, Belarus reverted to the Soviet Union until it achieved independence in 1991. Consequently, the Library's modest collection of maps of Belarus tends to emphasize Russian/Soviet influences, which are all the more apparent today as the country undergoes convulsions in its attempts to separate itself further from Russian authority.

Similar arguments could be made for the independent nations of the Baltics, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, and Moldova, but that is only to belabor the point. The most pressing reason, however, for including coverage of these nations in a research guide on cartographic materials of Russia and its empire is that the Library's Geography and Map Division continues the antiquated practice of filing and storing these materials under the rubric of "Russia," particularly in regard to its collection of uncataloged maps. This practice will continue for the foreseeable future. What results is a large, complex collection that comprises historical maps filed by their former rather than current place names, misidentified and mislabeled materials, a potential number of multiple filing locations for specific items, and cataloged and uncataloged materials being interfiled.

Let us consider the Library's uncataloged maps of Crimea as an example. Those are still filed as a region of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in spite of independent Ukraine's recent loss of the territory to modern Russia. Thus, to facilitate for researchers the identification and retrieval of those materials, as well as for the sanity of the division's reference librarians, they have been included within a guide on Russia and its empire.

Cartographic Images from Institutions in Russia

We further wish to point out to researchers that the Maps component of the Library's website is also a repository for digital images of up to 1,000 maps and atlases of Russia that formed part of the project known as Meeting of Frontiers, which assembled almost 19,000 items related to the exploration and settlement of the American West and Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russo-American frontier in Alaska. Thirty-three libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies in the United States and Russia, many from remote facilities in Siberia and the Russian Far East, contributed collections to the project. All of these unique and valuable images are now available from the Meeting of Frontiers website as high-resolution JPEG2000 and TIFF image files.