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Little Atlas, Big World

In 1764, Le petit atlas maritime – “the little maritime atlas” – was published in Paris. Consisting of 5 volumes, each about 14 inches tall and containing 581 maps in total, Le petit atlas maritime is not particularly little. Its subject matter, in fact, is expansive: individual volumes are dedicated to maps of North America and the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa, Europe excepting France, and France itself, respectively.

Map of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean

Carte réduite du Golphe du Mexique et des isles de l’Amérique. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the city and port of Macau

Plan de la ville et du port de Macao. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

The atlas is the work of Enlightenment cartographer Jacques Nicolas Bellin, engineer of the French Marine Office and Official Hydrographer to King Louis XV. A prolific cartographer, he published many individual maps as well as large folio nautical atlases (the standard by which Le petit atlas maritime was deemed “petit”).

Bellin’s focus in Le petit atlas maritime is, as one might expect, maritime. With just one or two exceptions, each of the maps depicts a possible destination for a sea voyage. Many maps show port cities, but with more detailed attention given to the coastline and the harbor than to the city’s layout or landmarks. Others show bays and coastal regions. Still others chart the mouths of navigable rivers, including the St. Lawrence, the São Francisco, and the Senegal.

Map of the gulf of the St Lawrence River and Newfoundland

Le golphe de Saint Laurent et l’isle de Terre-Neuve.. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the mouth of the São Francisco River

Entrée de la Riviere St. Francois à la coste de Brezil.. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Two maps on one sheet; the upper shows the mouth of the Senegal River and the first part of its course inland to the island of Bilbas, and the second shows the course farther inland

Cours de la Riviere de Sanaga ou Senegal : depuis son embouchure jusqu’à l’Isle de Bilbas levé par un ingénieur francois en 1718 ; and Suite du cours de la Riviere de Senegal depuis l’isle de Bilbas, jusqu’au sault du Rocher de Govina.. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the Island of Barbados

Carte de l’isle de la Barbade. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Many maps are of islands, in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and elsewhere. Regular lengthy voyages between the colonies and the metropole, or between ports of trade, required reliable and accessible mapping of any potential stopover or haven.

Map of several islands north of Haiti

Carte des isle situées au nord de St. Domingue, avec les passages pour le retour appellés débouquemens, 1763. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Maps have long been among the favorite tools of empire, and Bellin’s charts are no exception. The French empire in the early 1760s included vast New France in North America, several sugar-producing islands in the Caribbean, and coastal entrepots in India and West Africa; detailed maps of many of these places are included in Le petit atlas maritime. However, the atlas appeared in print the year after the 1763 Treaty of Paris, in which France lost its North American colonies. Bellin ostentatiously dedicated the volumes to Étienne François, duc de Choiseul, the Secretary of State for War who presided over the Marine Office as well as the 1763 Treaty.

Map of New France, or Canada

La Nouvelle France où Canada. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the island of Guadeloupe and islands nearby

Isle de la Guadeloupe, les Saintes et Marie Galante. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

After the Treaty of Paris, the map of the French-controlled world looked significantly different. But Bellin, with the publication of Le petit atlas maritime, had ensured that French ships could sail confidently throughout the seven seas.

Map of mainland Southeast Asia

Carte des royaumes de Siam, de Tunquin, Pegu, Ava Aracan, &c. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Map of the mouth of the bay and port of New York

Baye et port d’Yorc, capitale de la Nouvelle Yorc. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, [1764]. Geography and Map Division.

Learn more: Explore other maps from Le petit atlas maritime in our online collections.

Native American Spaces: Cartographic Resources at the Library of Congress

*The text for this blog post was adapted from the research guide created by former G&M reference specialist, Mike Klein, and from the essay by Jim Flatness, former G&M acquisitions specialist, found in the Library’s publication “Many nations : a Library of Congress resource guide for the study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the […]

GIS Day 2022: Exploring Humanitarian GIS

Happy GIS Day from the Library of Congress! Today the Library celebrates GIS Day with a virtual event exploring the role of GIS in addressing humanitarian disasters. Today’s event aims to highlight the role that geospatial data and GIS technologies can play in creating positive change in the face of global humanitarian challenges. Geography enthusiasts, […]

Mapping Disko Bay

This is a guest post by Diane Schug-O’Neill, Digital Conversion Coordinator, in the Geography and Map Division.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Greenland. 1976. Geography and Map Division.

In 1925, Silas Sandgreen was commissioned by the Library of Congress to create a map of Disko Bugt (also seen as Disko Bay), Greenland. Disko Bay is a large bay located on the western coast of Greenland, along the southeastern side of Baffin Bay.

The southern coastline of the bay has multiple waterways flowing into the bay and many small islands. To the north lies the largest island, Disko Island, on the western coast of Greenland. Qeqertarsuaq (meaning “the big island” in Kalaallisut and previously named Godhavn) is the port town on the southern end of the island.

Disko Bay is the largest open bay in western Greenland, measuring 150 kilometers x 100 kilometers. It has an average depth of 400 meters and an average water temperature of 3.5° Celsius (full temperature range is roughly -1.75° C to 12° C); this is rising with the general warming of Earth.

Silas Sandgreen. Map of the Crown Prince Islands, Disko Bay, Greenland. 1926. Geography and Map Division.

Lt. R.E. Byrd, U.S. Navy with Rubber Life Boat. 1925. Prints and Photographs Division.

George W. Rice, Photographer. Godhaven, Disco Island. 1881–83. Prints and Photographs Division.









Chas. Beseler Company. A Northernmost Man and his Wife, Mec-oo-sha and Ah-ma, Standing next to Sledge, Two Inuits who Served as Helpers to Frederick Cook during his Expedition to the North Pole. 1907. Prints and Photographs.

While the Inuit presence in Disko Bay dates back to between 2400 and 900 BC; the bay has been an important location to Europeans since the days Erik the Red placed a settlement there in 985. These settlers relied on the resources of the bay such as ivory from walrus tusks, seal pelts, and whales, whose body parts were used for many purposes. These resources sustained the settlements with trade goods for many years.

A variety of officials were involved in the commissioning of the Map of the Crown Prince Islands, Disco [sic] Bay, Greenland: the offices of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Commander R. E. Byrd, an American Aviator, Mr. Philip Rosendahl, the  Administrator of North Greenland, and Dr. M. P. Porsild, the Chief of the Danish Arctic Station at Disko. The capital for North Greenland was Godhavn, also the location for the Arctic Station.

While many Europeans requested this map, none provided any assistance in its creation. Silas Sandgreen relied wholly upon his own observations from his home in the Crown Point Islands, utilizing sledge and kayak to visit remote islands. He mapped 83 islands and 10 reefs in a more traditional map.

William Pierce, Photographer. Inuit Man Holding Oars in a Kayak at Shore. 1864. Prints and Photographs.



This commissioned effort was created with sealskin and driftwood. Individual islands were whittled from Siberian driftwood. The wood was then sewn onto the sealskin. Next, the sealskin was painted. Yellow on the islands represents grassy and swampy land; blue indicates lakes; black shows the extent of country covered with black lichens. Tidal areas are left uncolored. Reefs are demarked by pencil. The map encompasses an area of approximately 70 square miles at a scale of 1 in to 1,760 feet and is a wonderful representation of indigenous mapping in Greenland.


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Virtual Orientation to the Geography and Map Division

Please join us for the third session in a new series of virtual orientations from the Geography and Map Division! Date: Tuesday, October 11th, 2022 Time: 3:00-4:00 pm (Eastern) Location: Zoom Register for this session here! Reference librarians Carissa Pastuch and Amelia Raines will present an introduction to the collections of the Geography and Map Division at […]

Mapping the Northern Pacific Railroad

In mid-19th Century America, an expanding nation had a major transportation need: rail lines that could stretch from coast to coast. Western explorations and survey crews began to sketch out potential railroad routes in the decades before the American Civil War. Lloyd’s American railroad map of the US, seen below, shows three proposed rail routes: […]