Where in the World? Mapmaking at the Asia-Pacific Margin, 1600-1900


Tuesday, April 7, 2015, 4:15pm to 6:15pm


Tsai Auditorium (S010), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies Annual Edwin O. Reischauer Lecture Series

Where in the world? Event poster

Co-sponsored by the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and Korea Institute

Kären Wigen
Frances & Charles Field Professor, Department of History, Stanford University

Where in the World? Mapmaking at the Asia-Pacific Margin, 1600-1900 
During the early modern era, when cartography in much of the world was converging on a global norm, mapmaking in the Sinosphere moved to its own distinctive regional rhythms. The Qing, Chosŏn, and Tokugawa regimes alike eagerly mapped their own territories, yet restricted the flow of cartographic information from abroad. At the same time, educated publics across East Asia were hungry to know more about the shape of the world beyond their shores. How did mapmaking develop in these conditions? And how did the resulting maps orient their viewers to the wider world? Drawing chiefly on Japanese examples, but with reference to the broader East Asian world, these talks highlight three developments: the representation of oceans, the cartography of continents, and the mapping of the past.

Lecture 1 (April 7): "Entering Asia"
Discussant: Karen Thornber, Professor of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

In 1885, a leading Tokyo journal called for Japan to “leave Asia” (datsu-A). But when did Japan enter Asia in the first place? To answer this question requires us to trace the career of continents. Introduced to the Chinese-reading world by the Jesuits, this spatial taxonomy gained little traction in the early Qing or Chosŏn contexts, but in Japan it quickly became a standard feature of world maps and gazetteers, even as its contours and contents remained fluid. This talk will survey the ways Japanese geographers handled the continental scheme and its subdivisions, highlighting the syntheses forged by Buddhist cosmologists and the reworking of Ricci’s categories by popular print-makers in the later Tokugawa decades. 

Lecture 2: "Picturing the Pacific"
Discussant: Surekha Davies, Assistant Professor of European History, Western Connecticut State University

How did mapmakers in early modern East Asia configure sea-space? Visual sources yield multiple answers. Side-by-side with homegrown Buddhist and Chinese cartographic styles, new paradigms gradually filtered into the region by way of the Portuguese and the Dutch. In Japan, and to some extent in Korea and China as well, each successive style proved popular with a different intellectual community, allowing different models to coexist. At the same time, the iconography used to indicate shipping routes and vessels on Japanese printed maps changed in consistent ways over the years, suggesting a crosscutting narrative of broad secular shifts in the imagination of the sea. 

Lecture 3: "Orienting the Past" 
Discussant: Robert Goree, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages & Cultures, Wellesley College
Location: Belfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street

The idea of making specialized maps to shed light on the past appears to have emerged independently at both ends of early modern Eurasia at around the same time. In both places, its pursuit was linked to pedagogy, and in both places, the past that mattered lay close to home. The meaning of “home,” however, varied: it might be the native place of ancestors, the domains of past rulers, or places from classical texts. This final talk shifts from cosmology to chorography to explore the development of historical cartography in an East Asian context. In Edo particularly, far from being a simple academic exercise, the creation and circulation of historical maps served to consolidate social networks, including some with far-reaching political agendas.

All lectures will start at 4:15 pm.