28 October 2007

0.5 years on: still a map dork

last wednesday marked 6 months since i landed here. how to celebrate? a lecture about maps!

professor lee don-su of myongji university's lecture, "representation of korean peninsula and cartographic perception reflected in western maps: from 16th century to 19th century", was sponsored by the royal asiatic society-korea branch, a 107-year-old group whose name triggered some... cynicism. anyhow, being a big map dork, i enjoyed learning about early european cartographers' inclusion, ommission and depictions of this beautiful peninsula.

i learned that when popular trade helped make accurate maps of africa, the mideast, south asia and even much of japan, word of the nasty things koreans did to unexpected guests got around. consequently, western ships mostly steered clear and the peninsula was generally depicted as an archipelago or as a dagger-shaped island. while it's possible that the group of islands in al idris' world map of 1154, or giovanni de piano carpini's 13th century map's reference to "solangi," may have been early depictions of what is now korea, it was marco polo's mentions of "cauli" and some of the 16th century maps that seem like more plausible early european renderings.

the kangnido.

although dr. lee's lecture focused on western depictions, i'd also like to learn about maps by asian cartographers. for example, the kangnido (강리도) is a world map made in korea in 1402. created by combining chinese maps and adding details from local korean ones, the kangnido depicts how the mongol empire connected the chinese and arab spheres to integrate traditional chinese knowledge with advanced islamic science.

as one might expect, china and especially korea dwarf the rest of the world. although europe appears quite small, there are over 100 country names, including "alumangia," latin for germany. it's interesting to me that africa's southern half is depicted a century before europeans even rounded the cape of good hope. finally, it tickles me that the lighthouse of alexandria (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) is denoted by a pagoda.

i remember seeing an exhibit in hawai'i of japanese artists' paintings of commodore perry and his "black ships", which forcibly opened japan to the world back in the early 19th century. interesting shiz. since china was making extensive explorations prior to christ's birth, had salied to india and sri lanka by the early 5th century AD, and wrote detailed accounts of african commerce during the tang dynasty (618-907 AD), i want to see more asian maps... i mean, the ones that weren't copied by the portuguese and french ;)

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