QR codes reveal hidden messages in maps

2 min read

Though it explores the myriad techniquesfrom cartouches to vignettes, figural borders, and frontispieces – that cartographers have employed for centuries to encode messages into maps, “Going for Baroque: The Iconography of the Ornamental Map,” the current exhibition at the Harvard Map Collection also employs new technology. It is the first Harvard College Library exhibition to use QR codes – a type of two-dimensional barcode – to link visitors to additional information.


Using a smartphone or other mobile device, visitors can snap photos of the codes, which will direct them to web pages that offer larger, more detailed images of the visual cues embedded in the map as well as in-depth descriptions of them. Each page also includes links to digitized images of the full map, and links to the HOLLIS record for each item.

“This exhibition focuses on decorative elements in the maps,” Bonnie Burns, librarian for Geographic Information Services, said. “QR codes will allow our patrons to examine these maps is much greater detail, giving them a richer, fuller experience.”

Another technology deployed as part of the exhibition will allow the Web pages to be more easily viewed on a variety of mobile devices. Using a number of open-source tools, HCL designer/multimedia specialist Enrique Diaz crafted a “responsive design” for the pages. An emergent approach to web design, “responsive” pages employ a combination of flexible layouts, images and specialized coding to detect the size of the screen they are being viewed on and automatically adjust their size and resolution for the best fit.