Maps and views blog

26 March 2020

Go for a spin! 3D interactive historic globes now live

Everyone loves an old globe. When you see one you tend to want to spin it. Doing so, however, can have hazardous outcomes, and not just for the globes.

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Charlie Chaplin in 'The Great Dictator,' 1940.

Wiliam Hogarth. Portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (1740). Foundling Museum, London.

Despite the high visibility of historic globes in popular culture, from portraits of sitters with globe attributes through to props in period dramas and comedic devices, today historic globes are curiously elusive things, often locked away and out of sight for their own safety. The British Library’s 150 or so globes are, like all of our maps, available for anybody who has a research need, but we have to be fairly protective over them in order to preserve them for future generations. 

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W.J. Blaeu's small table globe of 1606 

So today we are very pleased to be able to launch our highly accessible and hazard-free online web page where for the first time you can view, move and explore 3D models of British Library globes from the comfort of your own home.

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Moxon's pocket globe of 1679 

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Moxon's pocket globe of 1679.

Navigate, zoom and spin such highlights as Blaeu’s 1606 terrestrial globe (showing results of the then latest Dutch voyages), the first ‘pocket globe’ (yes, interactive 3D portable maps pre-date the 21st century!) and some highpoints of 18th century English globe production. Precisely the sorts of globes that were painted by William Hogarth over two and a half centuries ago. You can investigate the globes further, for example in the 'model inspector' you can see the intricate wireframes used to construct them. You can even switch to virtual reality mode and view them, as it were, in the real world. 

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Imaging in progress at the British Library

These are the fruits of a collaboration between the British Library’s Map Library and Digitisation service, digitisation experts Cyreal, and 3D platform Sketchfab. We’re also grateful to historic globe conservator and curator Sylvia Sumira for allowing us to use excerpts from her book ‘The Art and History of Globes’ in the online article.  

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We hope you enjoy the globes and would love to hear your comments on Twitter at @BMaps.

 Get spinning!