Paper Maps, Paper Maps!

Posted by apm-wa on 11 September 2018 in English (English)

A friend with connections in Riga obtained for me reprints of uncopyrighted Soviet military maps from the 1970s of all of Turkmenistan. I’m not sure how useful they will be as a lot has changed here since the 1970s (particularly the names of municipalities) but at least they will provide some historical names that may be useful and of interest. If anybody has experience working with Soviet-era maps and has tips or suggestions, please let me know!

Comment from imagico on 11 September 2018 at 18:28

The legal situation of Soviet military maps is complicated - both in terms of copyright an regarding classification of the larger scales. A few links can be found on:

Soviet military mapping is by the way also interesting from a cartographic history perspective because it was one of the most ambitious cartographic projects of pre-digital times that aimed to depict the global geography to a uniform cartographic standard at larger scale and as such dealt with a lot of the same problems we have today with map styles for OSM based maps which likewise need to depict very different types of geography in different parts of the world.

Comment from SK53 on 12 September 2018 at 13:30

There’s a recent book The Red Atlas, about these maps, and an associated website. Certainly for Great Britain, the Ordnance Survey asserts that the maps are substantially derived from their mapping and the maps are now relatively hard to obtain.

As Imagico says they are a fascinating aspect of the history of cartography. In mentioned them as an inspiration in my Woodland Cartography post some years ago.

Soviet era maps, like those of China, today may contain some topographical distortion, although perhaps not in this series which would have needed to be accurate. Some issues of this sort were discussed at the history workshop back in 2013 at Sotm-Baltics (my summary (here)[]).

Lastly, the maps are worth having on their own account. I’m sure you will find them fascinating.

Comment from apm-wa on 12 September 2018 at 17:45

Imagico and SK53,

Thank you for these insights–they are very helpful. I suspect copyright issues that affect UK maps (since the Soviet maps of the UK may well have merely been illegal copies of Ordnance Survey maps) would not pertain to former republics of the USSR, where the Soviet cartographers would have done their own mapping. I’ll see if I cannot research this a bit more, just to be on the safe side.

You are correct that these maps are fascinating. One of the maps my friend obtained is of the area of western Washington state where I was born and grew up. The unincorporated community where I went to grade school is on the map. It is not even shown on many U.S. road atlases, since it is so small. These maps are very, very detailed.

Login to leave a comment