Guest Blogger: Julia Leal | Student Map Assistant | Summer 2019

October 16, 2019


Growing up, spending hours rewatching TV programs like Mysteries at the Museum and films like National Treasure led me to marvel at the wonders that history could bring, that seemingly everyday objects lost to most of the world could turn out to have great significance. Since coming to Stanford, I have been able to further my longtime passion for studying history, culminating into my work this summer with a plethora of fascinating cartographic materials.

I have been working as the student map assistant on the mezzanine in Branner Library, home to large cases and filing cabinets holding thousands of maps, books, globes, and puzzles. The first thing I needed to learn was the Library of Congress system for organization to help put new and checked-out maps into the correct cabinets and cases. For all the times I have come to Branner to find books and study for exams, it still took me a while to pick up the system and approach my library visits from a behind-the-scenes point of view. 

Army Map Service Project


The project I worked on for the first half of the summer included efforts to inventory and identify duplicates within our collections of Army Map Service (AMS) maps. AMS maps are large sets compiled by the United States Army Map Service that show strategic planning, climate zones, and other key data for military efforts around the world. This was a multi-faceted project as it one, involved processing a donation of AMS maps we received and two, contributed to a joint inventory and duplication-identification project we have with map and geospatial librarians a part of the University of California (UC) system. The workflow for processing this particular map donation began with recording key characteristics of each map in an online spreadsheet, such as the title, attribution (author, publisher, or compiler), catalog key (a SearchWorks identification code), condition notes, duplicate explanation (where the item is held with consideration given to the David Rumsey Map Center collections), and price (searched on, a database available to Stanford affiliates). This information enables us to assess whether the donated maps are duplicates or not and if they are, how they are then distributed. Once I finished processing these duplicates, many of them found a new home in the free maps pile located in a corner of the mezzanine while other fuller sets were taken in by libraries across the country. 

With the assistance of Stanford's Digital Production Group (DPG), Branner Library is working to make these AMS maps viewable online. To view what has been scanned to date, click here

Something I have learned through these tasks is that classifying maps can be tricky and subjective at times, with a lot of detective work involved to figure out how to best describe the topic of interest when a title is not visible and log which characteristics will make it easier for a researcher to find what they're looking for. This rang most true during the latter half of my summer, during which time I have been investigating and processing the Conrad Collection.

The Conrad Collection

The Conrad Collection is a collection of over 3,000 "printed and manuscript maps, engineers drawings of elevations, terrain profiles, plans for bridges, dykes, canals, river charts, and related material" that was shrouded in mystery up until recently with a bit of digging into archival material at Special Collections. This collection was sent over to Stanford University from The Hague, Holland in 1903 by a bookseller and was likely assembled in the mid-19th century by J.F.W. Conrad. 

Jan Frederik Willem Conrad (1825-1902) was a renowned Dutch engineer upholding a long family legacy of hydraulic engineers and railroad pioneers. He served first as an advisor-engineer at Rijkswaterstaat, the main water managment board in the Netherlands and rose through the ranks to become chief inspector. For many years, he also worked for and was chairman of the Royal Institute of Engineers and the Dutch Society for the Promotion of Industry. Through these appointments he contributed to most major hydraulic engineering works in the Netherlands and abroad. Some of these developments included new waterways and shipping channels, first-of-their-kind locks at bridges, damming bodies of water, and arranging dikes and canals, all of which can be seen throughout this collection. 

Many of the materials are signed by J. Conrad himself along with his added notes on bottom corners updating the year in which each item was obtained or reviewed for compilation. Originally, the Conrad Collection was part of the Hopkins Transportation Library and thought to be better served at the New York Public Library as it seemed out of place at Stanford to those aware of its existence. This is evident in correspondence between librarians dating back to the the 1980s:

It seems unlikely that this collection should have arrived unannounced to this library but again we have not found documentation for this acquisition. They have been in the Map Room since before my time here, and I had always assumed that they were part of the Wreden collection. I think that this could be an extremely valuable archive for the study of Netherlands history, land use, engineering, land reclamation, and so forth.

Former letters like this give a peek into library systems of the past and express the longstanding significance of these educational institutions for preserving history that may not prove useful to someone right away. Sometimes things can fall through the cracks and take generations to uncover again; there is value in maintaining curiosity and questioning what is right in front of you because you never know what interesting findings you could discover. 

When I was first introduced to this collection and told about the confusion and intrigue surrounding its origins, my curiosity was piqued and I was excited to see what I could unearth from the many drawers brimming with folders of materials to comb through. All of these items are in Dutch, a language that I had absolutely zero familiarity with at the start of the summer. To figure out how to organize the materials, I have spent time recording generated translations of the titles and reading into the wide range of places across the Netherlands that are presented. As I got deeper into this endeavor, I was able to work out more of the significance of these materials and how they fit into a greater historical context.


Most of the items I have encountered so far date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, in the years following the golden age of Dutch cartography and exploration. The many sketches and charts focus upon developing the cityscapes of this transforming society, looking inward upon itself rather than looking outward as in previous patterns of mapmaking that highlighted ambitious maritime exploration. During this time, Dutch society was solidifying its own structures and developing a national identity, as is depicted in the numerous bridge and seawall structure plans meant to adapt city designs to the natural topography and waterways of the environment that its people inhabited. Amsterdam is a prime example of a cityscape being shaped by the bodies of water weaving through the land and framing its coast. Dutch cartography is noted for its artistic value and nature, as can be seen through the stylistic choices and watercolor accents of many plans for city layouts and technological advancements included in this collection; like the waterways of the Eastern Scheldt or the shifting gears of the swing bridge in Spijkerboor.

On a broader scale, the Conrad Collection conveys the centuries' old relationship between humans and their surrounding terrestrial and aquatic systems, and how societies are constantly developing and adapting to their environments to survive and thrive. It speaks to larger questions on how the decisions we make have an impact and what we can do to carve our own places in the world. I encourage you to visit Branner Library to explore its map collections yourself and think about these connections when searching for your own maps of interest. Even though they happened lifetimes ago, these same questions are being posed nowadays as the climate is changing, and urban development and hydro-engineering are advancing in order to meet our growing needs. 


Esri ArcGIS StoryMap

As my last endeavor during my time working as the student map assistant for the collections held at Branner Library, I created a short Esri ArcGIS StoryMap to highlight some of my favorite pieces from the collection. To view, click here

Student Bio

Julia Leal is an undergraduate student interested in the convergence of environmental, historical, and artistic disciplines. Through her studies in earth systems, she focuses on human environmental impacts and how further understanding of climate change can drive policy implementations with advancements in fields such as renewable energy technology and sustainable agriculture. This includes learning new methods for effectively communicating the science to increase public understanding and activism. Based on prior work at the University Archives & Special Collections along with coursework in the history department, she enjoys finding and utilizing archival material to help draw meaningful connections between the past and the present. In addition, she utilizes active dance training as another form of creative expression to complement these subjects, and has performed in several dance productions in the theater and performance studies department. Julia hopes to continue being involved in undergraduate research during her time at Stanford to pursue her interdisciplinary interests.


Collenbrander, Bernard. Style: Standard and Signature in Dutch Architecture of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Rotterdam: Nai Publ, 1993.

Correspondence from Martinus Nijhoff to Leland Stanford Jr. University, 10 Jun 1903, M0343, Conrad family papers, ca. 1850-1902, Stanford University Archives, Stanford, California, United States.

Correspondence from Michael Ryan to Paul Mosher, 11 Apr 1984, M0343, Conrad family papers, ca. 1850-1902, Stanford University Archives, Stanford, California, United States.

Correspondence from Karyl Tonge to Michael Ryan, 9 Apr 1984, M0343, Conrad family papers, ca. 1850-1902, Stanford University Archives, Stanford, California, United States.

Hameleers, Marc. Kaarten van Amsterdam, Volume I, 1538-1865. Bussum: Uitgeverij Thoth; Amsterdam: Stadsarchief Amsterdam, 2013.

Kuyper, W. The Triumphant Entry of Renaissance Architecture into the Netherlands: the Joyeuse entrée of Philip of Spain into Antwerp in 1549, Renaissance and Mannerist Architecture in the Low Countries from 1530 to 1630. Alphen aan den Rijn: Canaletto, 1994.

“Parenteel Van Martinus Egidius Conrad.”

Sandick, RA van. “Life Report from Jan Frederik Willem Conrad.” Yearbook of the Society of Dutch Literature, 1901-2000, 1905.

Suchtelen, Ariane van, Arthur K. Wheelock, Boudewijn Bakker, and Henriette de Bruyn Kops. Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age. The Hague; Washington; Zwolle: Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis; National Gallery of Art; Waanders, 2008.