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Soviet topographic maps

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For the 50 years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Soviet military sought to map every corner of the globe. The result was an extensive collection of standardized maps at various scales. John Davies has written a 28 page, 2 part paper on the topic for Sheetlines, the publication of the Charles Close Society, an organization that studies the U. K.’s Ordinance Survey maps. In his paper he indicates that the Soviets mapped the entire world at 1:1,000,000, 1:500,000 and 1:200,000, most of Asia, Europe, north Africa and North America at 1:100,000, the Soviet Union, Europe and parts of Asia at 1:50,000, the Soviet Union and eastern Europe at 1:25,000 and about a quarter of the Soviet Union at 1:10,000. “In addition,” writes Davies, “plans at 1:25,000 and 1:10,000 were produced of thousands of towns and cities around the world.” In some areas, the Soviet maps are still among the best available.

What is just as amazing as the number of maps churned out by the Soviet military is the fact that none of these maps are copyrighted since the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Berne Convention on copyright. The U. K. ’s Ordinance Survey believes that the Russian topographic maps of the U. K. are simply copies of OS maps of the time; however, Davies compares the two side by side and raises questions about the OS’ position.

A 1958 map symbol guide is available online in pdf.

Update: For an update, see the blog post for 30 November 2005.

Some of these maps are freely available on the Internet. The two best sources are the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of California, Berkeley. Together they have an extensive collection of mostly 1:100,000 and 1:200,000 maps for Asia and parts of Europe and Africa. The Perry-Castañeda Library has links to various bits and pieces of Russian topographic maps (search by country).

Paper versions of Russian topographic maps for other parts of the world can still be purchased from a variety of sources (for example Omnimap, Eastview Cartographic, Fourone)

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