Heaven and earth

[Chart of Sumatra] (1737), Kaart: Moll 622

The Special Collections of Utrecht University Library reflect the university’s rich tradition of research into spatial phenomena, on and under the earth’s surface and in outer space.

Thanks to education and research in astronomy at Utrecht University over the past few centuries, the library has accumulated a large collection of astronomy books, making it one of the most extensive and complete collections in the Netherlands. A collection of astronomical maps of interest both nationally and internationally was also developed following the establishment of the Geographical Institute (Geografisch Instituut) in 1908.

Harmonia macrocosmica (1661), MAG: Rariora ligkast 115 (detail)

Following Leiden’s example of 1634, the decision to erect a place to observe the stars in Utrecht – on the old Smeetoren fortified tower – was taken as long ago as 1642, shortly after Utrecht University was founded by the city council. It was not until 1854 that a true observatory was put in place.

Afbeeldinge van Rhynlands waterstaat (ca. 1740), Kaart: Ackersdijck 96

For centuries, water management has played an integral role in the history of the Netherlands. This rich tradition has left a considerable legacy of early and rare hydrology publications. All in all, the Utrecht University Library has a large collection of early printed works, atlases and maps, which paint a telling picture of the Netherlands – often difficult – relationship with water.

Nieuwe Zee-Atlas (1660), Kaart: *VIII*.A.a.7

Man has wanted to explore unknown or largely unknown territories ever since the beginning of human history. During classical antiquity, it was mainly the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans that went on expeditions and voyages of discovery.


Georeferencing allows you to overlay historic maps on modern maps or other historic maps. The overlaid maps reveal changes over time and enable map analysis and discovery. With georeferencing Utrecht University Library wants to give especially research and education optimum access to its collection of old maps.