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Sea of Korea Maps Digital Archive

University of Southern California, East Asia Library
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Reviewed by:
Brian Platt
George Mason University
April 2003

This site is an online collection of 172 European maps of Asia made from the 17th to the 19th century. The East Asian Library at USC holds the original copies of the maps. The site is very easy to use, with a list of all maps in chronological order. Maps may be searched by keyword as well. Each listing contains a name of a map, the date of the map, the author or publisher, and a thumbnail image. Each thumbnail image links to a full-screen image of the map.

Asia figures prominently in almost all of the maps on this site, but the geographical scope of the maps varies. Some focus exclusively on the national space—there are many maps of China, for example, and a few each of Japan, Korea, and Russia. Some of the maps focus more broadly on what we now call East Asia—Japan, Korea, and China. Others include Southeast Asia, and many portray the entire Asian subcontinent. There are also several global maps, some of which divide the world into a “Western Hemisphere” and an “Oriental Hemisphere,” displaying them in separate globular projections on a single map.

The resolution of these maps is good enough to be reproduced for classroom use (for example, in PowerPoint presentations or as color transparencies). Unfortunately, the site does not allow the viewer to zoom in on a particular portion of a map, rendering most of the place names illegible. This limits the value of the site for researchers—at least, for those who want to use the site as a source of detailed geographic information on 17th-century to 19th-century Asia.

Nevertheless, the bird’s-eye view of these maps can be very useful for teachers of world history. For example, teachers can use the maps to trace important changes in European conceptions of geographic space. The earliest maps on this site were produced in the early 17th century, while the latest are from the late 19th century. The period in between witnessed major transformations in how Europeans conceptualized and mapped the world, and many of these transformations are visible in the maps in this site. One can see, for example, the growing importance of scientific exactitude in cartographic discourse, the increasing prominence of national boundaries, the consolidation of the idea of “continents,” and the separation of the world into Western and Eastern hemispheres. Students looking at this site will immediately recognize that the early 17th-century maps (some of which include portraits of European missionaries and explorers) look very different from the late 19th century maps. Teachers can then use specific examples from the maps to help students articulate those differences. Because these developments take place during the age of imperialism, teachers of world history might use the maps to demonstrate how Western imperialism contributed to the formation of the modern geographic imagination. Teachers might also compare these European maps of Asia with the Japanese maps of Asia included on a site curated by The East Asian Library at The University of California at Berkeley. Taken together, the maps on these two sites could provoke valuable class discussions about the differences in worldviews and mapmaking between Europe and Asia during the transition to modernity.

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