Organised by Dr. Christine Habbard

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Maps have become ambiguous objects: while often considered as the quintessential scientific object, objective, disinterested, perhaps the only “true” representations of reality, they have, in recent decades, undergone a profound re-evaluation and reconceptualization, which have seen them vilified as pure instruments of power – political, colonial, economic, social. Such dual understanding of maps has made them particularly interesting objects of study, and has generated interest in many fields, from mathematics to social theory and humanities. Maps are now considered less as the product of cognition than as strategic tools of political, social, religious communications, in situations of conflicts of representations and interests. They convey certain intentions, notably political, and aim at producing an impact on society and culture.

It is these intentions that the workshop aims to study, particularly in the context of Asia, which was very early mapped, and which has represented a very important area of investigation and exploration by extraneous travellers. Asia holds a central place in the imaginative geography of cartographers, as maps were a fundamental tool that shaped the continent, its self-perception and its understanding of the world.

The workshop will be theoretical and historical in its main outlook, but will welcome other perspectives.


11 am: The Art and Politics of Contemporary Cartography in Asia
We will be looking at how cartographic techniques have affected the use, be it political, artistic, intellectual or otherwise, of maps in contemporary Asia. How have maps changed the way we view art, politics, or even culture and language itself?

  • Thongchai Winichakul, U. of Wisconsin-Madison
    Map as Language and Its Translability in the Asian ContextMap is a form of language, a coded representation of spatial entity with particular rules and necessary features like grammar, scripts, and vocabularies. Before the scientific cartography, can vernacular maps communicate across the cartographic traditions in Asia? To what extent or on what conditions they were intelligible to one another? Were they “translatable”? Or only those ones with “universal” components can communicate across cartographic cultures?

    Bio: Thongchai Winichakul is Emeritus Professor of History at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and currently Senior Researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO) in Japan. His book, Siam Mapped (1994) was awarded the Harry J Benda Prize from the Association for Asian Studies (USA) and the Grand Prize from the Asian Affairs Research Council (Japan). He was a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Award in 1994. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003, and was elected the President of the Association for Asian Studies in 2013/14. His research interests are in cultural and intellectual history of Siam including nationalism, modern geography, cartography, and historical knowledge. He currently works on the intellectual foundation of modern Siam (1880s-1930s) and also a book on the memories of the 1976 massacre in Bangkok. He also publishes three books and several articles in Thai, including many political and social commentaries.

  • Guillaume Monsaingeon, Norbert Elias Research Center, Marseille
    Re-mapping Others : Asia and Europe Revisited by Outside Contemporary Artists

    For years, artists have been creating cartographic Artworks, including world representations and large-scale maps. In this global and informal « Mapping Project », we shall focus on the way contemporary Asian and European artists revisit the long term relationship between Asia and Europe.

    Bio: Guillaume Monsaingeon is a professor of philosophy and a Research Fellow at Norbert Elias Center, France.

  • Andrea Nanetti, NTU, Singapore
    Visual Knowledge Aggregation: From Static to Dynamic Information Systems in Library Contexts. Cartography and Asia as a Showcase

    The paper present a project carried out by an international research team (NTU Singapore, Universidad Nova Lisbon, University of Southern California, Microsoft Research). The focus is on the use of Renaissance Italy world maps to distill ontologies and design computer applications able to decode and visualize the information encoded in historical cartography. As case studies this paper presents the theoretical approach and proposed solutions to decode information from the 1457 World Map (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Portolano 1) and the Fra Mauro World Map (Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) and automatically link them to other available historical as well as contemporary information on Microsoft Azure. These solutions can be seen as a visual knowledge aggregator for scholars in the Humanities. As more historical databases come online and overlap in coverage, we need to discuss the two main issues that prevent ‘big’ results from emerging so far. Firstly, historical data are seen by computer science people as unstructured, that is, historical records cannot be easily decomposed into unambiguous fields, like in population (birth and death records) and taxation data. Secondly, machine-learning tools developed for structured data cannot be applied, as they are, for historical research. We propose a complex network, narrative-driven approach to mining historical databases. In such a time-integrated network obtained by overlaying records from historical databases, the nodes are actors, while the links are actions. This tool allows historians to deal with historical data issues (e.g., source provenance identification, event validation, trade-conflict-diplomacy relationships, etc.). Following this vision, in this talk we will discuss how we have created a set of cross-cultural keywords to share and empower dialogue among coeval sources produced in different linguistic spaces. As a case study, we will start from the theory and the practice of the issues encountered by the international project “Engineering Historical Memory”, according to what the research team experienced in Asia, Europe, and the US to collect, parse, organize, and aggregate multilingual historical data using the Microsoft Azure cloud-based platform (

    Acknowledgement: The research has been funded by NTU Singapore (2014-2016 Start-Up-Grant), the 2014 and 2016 Microsoft Research Asia Collaborative Research Programs, 2015 and 2016 Microsoft Azure for Research (PI, Andrea Nanetti).

  • Christine Habbard, SUTD, Singapore
    The Role of Cartography in the Partition of South Asia, 1947

1 pm: Lunch

2 pm: Mapping Asia in the Early Modern Period
We will be looking at a decisive period in mapmaking: early modernity, from the 16th to the 18th c. This period became a turning point both in how Asian cartographers viewed their region and how they represented it, but also in how Europeans saw it. The circulation of knowledge and visual cultures between cartographers of both these regions will be a point of focus.

  • Qiong Zhang, Wake Forest University
    Mapping the New World in Late Ming and Early Qing China: A Case Study of an Intertwined Global Early ModernityThis paper delves into what the Chinese discovery of the “New World” was like during the early modern era by closely examining some of the world maps produced in the late Ming and early Qing empires. The “New World” here refers to both a new image of the earth as a globe and a new vision of the wider world that features many formerly unknown lands and peoples, especially Western Europe and the maritime Europeans whose presence loomed ever larger in the South China Sea since the turn of the sixteenth century. Insofar as Matteo Ricci and some later Jesuit missionaries served as the major purveyors of this new world image and cartographic conventions of Renaissance Europe among Chinese intellectuals, this paper centrally engages the debates in previous scholarship regarding the legacy of the Jesuit intervention in the development of Chinese cartography. However, it problematizes the self-proclaimed roles of the Jesuits as transmitters of a superior world geographical knowledge and cartographic skills and demonstrates how some of the calculated misinformation in the Jesuit world maps hampered rather than facilitated the Chinese in acquiring timely world geographical information. More broadly, the paper foregrounds the politics of map-making exercised by both Jesuit missionaries and Chinese cartographers, who were locked in an interdependent and yet contentious relationship over the course of one and a half century. Thus it seeks to capture the difficult cosmological, ideological, and cartographic transitions taking place in China because of this encounter as a unique case of an intertwined global early modernity.

    Qiong Zhang is associate professor of history at Wake Forest University, in Winston Salem, North Carolina. She received her BA and MA in philosophy from Wuhan University, China, and her Ph.D. in the history of science from Harvard University. Her research fields are early modern Chinese intellectual and cultural history and the history of China’s encounter with Western Europe since the sixteenth century. Her book on the reception of the notion of the globe in seventeenth century China, Making the New World Their Own: Chinese Encounters with Jesuit Science in the Age of Discovery, was published by Brill in June 2015. ( She received the 2015 Academic Excellence Award of CHUS (Chinese Historians in the United States) on account of this book.

    Professor Zhang is working on two sets of new projects. One set deals with late imperial Chinese maritime history as a context for ethnographic and world geographical knowledge; another set explores the knowledge ecology within the fields of Bowu learning (or natural history) and what may be called “Chinese meteorology” during the late Ming and early Qing.

  • Jean-Marc Besse, CNRS, Paris
    Southeast Asia in early modern European mapping

    The aim of my paper is to investigate the various ways early modern European geographers represented Southeast Asia in regional maps. I will first present some general comments on mapping theory today and atlases as form of knowledge. Then I will consider some European maps produced in the Sixteenth-, the Seventeenth-, and the Eighteenth-Century, and I will propose some remarks on various aspects of these maps where European discourse and concept of Southeast Asia can be put in light.

    Bio: EAN-MARC BESSE, holds a PhD in History (université Paris 1), is Associate Professor in Philosophy, Research Director at CNRS, Team director at EHGO/UMR Géographie-cités (CNRS/Paris I/Paris VII). University professor at Paris 1 (Institut de géographie) and at L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de paysage de Versailles. Editor-in-Chief of Les Carnets du paysage. Several books published on Geography and Landscape: Habiter. Un monde à mon image, Flammarion, Paris, 2013. Le goût du monde. Exercices de paysage, Actes Sud/ENSP, Arles, 2009. Face au monde. Atlas, jardins, géoramas, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 2003. Les grandeurs de la Terre. Aspects du savoir géographique à la Renaissance, ENS Editions, Lyon, 2003. Voir la Terre. Six essais sur le paysage et la géographie, Actes Sud/ENSP ; Arles, 2000.

  • Angelo Cattaneo, Lisbon University
    Unspoken Dialogues in Asia on Cosmology, Cosmography and Cartography. The Mutual Emplacement of Europe and Asia on Japanese World Cartographic Folding Screens during the Early Modern Period.

    Within the framework of two research projects,1 my research in the past five years has been focusing on the cultural construction of space and forms of spatialities that were developed and emerged in the contexts of the European presence in Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, in particular in the interactions between the Jesuit missions of Japan and China and their Buddhist and Confucian interlocutors. One relevant consequence of the presence of the nanban-jin and of the complex interactions that developed in the context of the encounter with the Japanese political, religious, and military elites, was a new emplacement of Japan and Europe in both European representations—which integrated knowledge developed within the rich Japanese cartographic tradition—and in Japanese ones, in parallel with the process of Japanese political unification brought about by the Oda Nobunaga (1534–82), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–98) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616). Despite past and current assertions of alleged European predestination and superiority in disclosing the orbis terrarum to other civilizations—a literary trope in 16th– and 17th-century European sources—in the late 16th and early 17th century the meaning of concepts such as “Europe”, India”, “China”, “Japan” and their whereabouts was still by no means obvious for European, Chinese and Japanese cultural and political elites: they were all trying to relate these terms not only to intelligible geographic concepts, but, much more importantly, to cultural and political concepts, by interpreting, adapting, using or contrasting knowledge structures that had been developed locally over many centuries.

    My research aims precisely at discussing the ways in which these mutual acts of cultural emplacement developed at the time of the mutual encounters between European, Japanese, Chinese and Korean agents, trying to understand the different functions, strategies, forms of communication that were developed in local contexts of interactions in Japan. These complex interactions involved, directly or indirectly, Japanese, European, Korean and Chinese agents, and took place in the contexts of the missions, in particular those of the Jesuits, through mercantile interactions with Portuguese and Dutch merchants in particular, but also through diplomacy and war, with Korea.

    In the light of these introductory remarks, in this paper, I will present the analysis of a selection of cartographic nanban byōbu, as a way to trace the circulation of knowledge and creating a map of cultural exchanges that highlights the specific patterns of circulation to and from Japan in the Momoyama (1573-1615) and early Edo (1615–ca. 1650) periods.
    1 “Interactions between Rivals. The Christian Mission and Buddhist Sects in Japan during the Portuguese Presence (c. 1549 – c. 1647),” developed at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the New Univeersity of Lisbon The project was funded by the FCT – The Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and lasted four years (2012-2015). – for English: click on the top right corner; “The mutual emplacement of Japan and Europe in the Nanban century: reproduction, analysis and transcription of the cartographic folding screens,” under development at the Nichibunken -The Japanese International Research Center for Japanese Studies The project is part of a broader collective project “Literary Legacies of Kirishitan Culture: Missionary Writing in the Vernacular – キリシタン文学の継承:宣教師の日本語文学 directed by Prof. Guo Nanyan –

    Bio: Angelo Cattaneo holds a Ph.D. in History from the European University Institute in Florence. Currently he is a Senior Research Fellow (Investigador FCT – The Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology) in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the New University of Lisbon (CHAM-FCSH/Nova) based at the CHAM-The Portuguese Centre for Global History. He is also a Research Associate of the Laboratoire Géographie-Cités UMR 8594, CNRS in Paris.

    His research revolves around two main topics: the cultural construction of space from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, by studying cosmography, cartography, travel literature, the birth of the atlas, and the spatiality of languages and religions; and the history of cultural exchanges between Europe and Asia, with a focus on religion, missionary practices and trade in East Asia from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, at the interface of both European and Asian expansions.

    He is also working on the transcription and analysis of Japanese nanban world maps on folding screens in collaboration with a team of Japanese researchers of the Nichibunken–The International Research Center for Japanese Studies of Kyoto in the framework of the project Literary Legacies of Kirishitan Culture: Missionary Writing in the vernacular directed by Prof. Guo Nanyan.

    He authored several publications including Fra Mauro’s Mappa mundi and Fifteenth-Century Venice (Brepols 2011), ‘Geographical Curiosities and Transformative Exchange in the Nanban Century (c. 1549-c. 1647)’, Études Épistémè 26 (Paris, 2014) and the edited volume The Space of Languages. The Portuguese Language in the Early Modern World (15th-17th centuries) (Lisbon, 2016).

  • Robert Batchelor, Georgia Southern U.
    Maritime Intentions: The Selden Map and the Early Modern Conceptualization of the Sea (海 / laut)

    Since the sixteenth century, the model of the Mediterranean has too often hovered over the conceptualization of the South China Sea and Southeast Asia more generally, to the detriment of understanding more complex connections between both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This paper will use cartography to examine Portuguese and Spanish efforts in the 1520’s (Francisco Roïs/Rodrigues and Antonio Pigafetta) as well as Fujianese efforts in the early seventeenth century (the Selden Map of ca. 1619) to grapple with Malayo-Polynesian linguistic space and the human-ecological networks of that region. In both cases, the uncertain boundaries of this space of interactions, which had long-term historical dimensions, demanded a rethinking of the notion of the sea and the maritime more generally in this period. These maps reveal how an older mythical-ecological substratum connected with the exchange and veneration of particular botanicals in relation to ships was being supplanted by more commercialized notions of regular ocean routes for transporting commodified botanical products during the early modern period involving mapping. The maps considered here, which suggest broader intentions to conceptualize the sea or ocean (海/laut) as a whole, indicate that the process was far more interactive among Malay, Chinese and European merchants than has previously been assumed.

    Bio: Robert Batchelor is professor of history and Director of Digital Humanities at Georgia Southern University. He discovered the Selden Map of China in 2008 at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and is the author of London: The Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549-1689. He is currently a principal investigator on a digital humanities project entitled “Pacific Routes” with the University of Pennsylvania and is editing a journal issue on Jesuit cartography. He received his doctorate from UCLA and worked previously at Stanford University.

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