30 September 2020, 19:00 – 21:00 SGT

How do scholars use historical maps in the crafting of their spatial histories?

This session invites scholars of historical maps of Asia to reflect on how they have used maps in their work. What can we learn from historical maps? What conventions shape the development of cartography, and how are these reflected in the historical cartographic record of Southeast Asia?

Chair: Prof Jane M Jacobs, Principal Investigator, Digital Historical Maps of Southeast Asia; Professor of Social Sciences (Urban Studies), Yale-NUS College

Prof Thongchai  Winichakul
Emeritus Professor, Department of History
University of Wisconsin 

Historical maps and alternative history 

If language mediates the construction of an imagined community, as Ben Anderson argues, maps can do so too because the map is a form of language. From this premise, historical maps have opened the door for me to an alternative history of Siam on the one hand, and to the intriguing indigenous perceptions of space in Thai culture on the other.

Ms Joy Slappnig
Royal Geographical Society

Artefacts of Encounter: a collection of Burmese manuscript maps and tracings from John Coryton’s verandah in Moulmein.

In the 1860s and early ‘70s, John Coryton, the colonial judge of Moulmein, assembled a collection of maps made by Burmese and Shan traders whom Coryton knew personally. A few years later, the maps were copied at the Survey of India in Calcutta before being accessioned into the collection of the Royal Geographical Society in 1875. While Coryton’s intention was to use the geographical information contained in these maps to validate claims he made about the location of a potential trade route linking Moulmein with Yunnan, these maps reveal much more about the process of geographical knowledge creation in the British colonies and the role played by Indigenous people in this process. Focussing on the contexts in which these maps were produced and reproduced, including Coryton’s verandah in Moulmein, the Survey of India and the Royal Geographical Society, this paper will argue that far from being simply embodiments of Indigenous knowledge, these maps can be considered witnesses to colonial encounters and exchanges.

About the speakers

Thongchai Winichakul is a historian and researcher of Southeast Asian studies. His research interests include the cultural and intellectual history of early modern and modern Southeast Asia (19th to early 20th century), encounters between Southeast Asian societies and the West, the history of Siam/ Thailand, and the modern Thai cultural politics from the late 19th century to the present. His pathbreaking book Siam Mapped (1994) won the Grand Prize for the Asia Pacific Book Award from the Asian Affairs Research Council.

Ms Joy Slappnig is an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award student working in partnership with the Royal Geographic Society (with IBG). Her current research examines the Indigenous contribution to the map collection of the Royal Geographic Society, explores the historical significance of “Indigenous maps” as sources of geographical information, as ethnographic objects, and as artefacts of encounter. She has previously held curatorial research internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and holds a MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology from the University of Oxford as well as a BA (Hons) in History at King’s College London

Prof Jane M Jacobs’ research is in the field of urban studies, with a particular interest in cultural aspects of the production and consumption of the built environment. She has written on the cultural politics of heritage, critical colonial and postcolonial urbanisms, and the relationship between society and architecture.