The World Digital Library is a site that makes significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world available for free of charge. By “primary materials,” they mean cultural treasures like manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings. These are collected and place on a world map where they can be browsed by place, time, topic, type of item, and contributing institution. You can also use the timeline at the bottom of the map to scroll forward and backward through the ages to see the different documents available.
The WDL was developed by a team at the U.S. Library of Congress and uses Seadragon Ajax to display the items on the map. To check out the documents from any region in the world, just click on that region to see the list of items available, which can be further narrowed down using the options in the sidebar on the left which let you specify time, topic, etc.
You won’t see Seadragon in action, though, until you click on an individual item. Then you’ll be able zoom in and out on the image, go full screen, flip through pages, or even download it as a zip file. This is an amazing way to explore old documents that you would never have been able to see otherwise. For example, check out this map of “La Florida,” my home state (Florida), created back in 1584. You can find something from your part of the world by exploring the different regions on this page.
Overall, the WDL is really cool site and definitely worth exploring.