Bridging Cultures Through Mapping Practices: Space and Power in Asia and America

Cecile Armand (, Stanford University y Christian Henriot (, Aix-Marseille University, IrAsia y Sora Kim (, Seoul National University y Ian Caine (, University of Texas y Jerry Gonzalez (, University of Texas y Rebecca Walter (, University of Washington

This panel brings together four papers that span from modern Asia to contemporary Texas: two studies of land ownership, based on historical cadasters in modern Shanghai and imperial Korea, a spatial analysis of advertising development in modern Shanghai, and a survey of municipal annexation as a mechanism for suburban expansion in San Antonio, Texas. In this panel, we argue that spatial concepts and practices can serve as a bridge to connect distant topics, spaces and times.

While grounded in separate contexts, all papers address issues of space and power. More precisely, they reveal the intricate relationships between space, power and mapping practices. Two papers point out the significance of historical cadasters as a record of land property and a basis of land management, while the two others focus on municipal regulations toward suburban expansion in San Antonio, or advertising development in modern Shanghai. Everywhere, spatial policies and mapping practices appear crucial to assert municipal or imperial control. This panel further suggests that mapping practices can play as a bridge between distant cultures and territories, either by transplanting Japanese and European cadastral techniques in Korea and Shanghai, or through the municipal attempts to avoid fragmentation in San Antonio. Yet spatial policies also create new boundaries among local communities: Chinese/foreign residents in Shanghai, Korean/Japanese in imperial Korea, Latinos/Anglos and working-class/elites in San Antonio. While the study of land cadasters in Korea focuses on the political impulses underlying spatial policies, the surveys of land ownership and advertising development in modern Shanghai, or that of suburban expansion in San Antonio, also emphasize the importance of economic factors in shaping urban spaces (real estate market, transportation networks), either reinforcing or conflicting with municipal policies.

At the methodological level, the panel demonstrates the values and challenges of using digital tools to conduct spatial analyses and to bridge past and present landscapes. Each project relies on a wide range of mapping software and practices, from the systematic digitization of original maps (Shanghai and Korean cadastral maps), to the uses of Geographical Information System (GIS) to build a geospatial database and bring together separate sets of data. GIS and spatial modeling even allow to reconstruct spatial layers that provide substitutes for missing data, as in the cases of Shanghai and Korean cadasters. Digital tools further enable the visualization of gaps and overlapping patterns, or tracing spatial changes across time. In the case of San Antonio, going a step further would lead to imagine a digital chronology of its suburban expansion, including flat mapping, a filmed spatial narrative, and an interactive timeline. Two projects eventually provide a digital interface open to sharing and cooperation (San Antonio, MADSpace). Although they do not provide ready-made arguments, digital and non-digital mapping tools open untrodden paths to interpret the past, and raise new research questions. Through their digital experience, the four projects bridge various disciplines and fields of expertise. They rely on interdisciplinary collaboration between historians, geographers, economists and sociologists, as well as sustained cooperation between researchers, engineers, designers and software developers.

One of the challenges the authors address is the combination and integration of heterogeneous materials, the use of modeling to process data extracted from textual sources, or to rely on directories (digitized/ocerized/extraction) to identify unregistered land owners, especially in the case of historical cadasters, etc. This approach goes far beyond a conventional use of primary sources in historical research. Moreover, the two studies on historical cadasters actually serve as a bridge between Korea, Japan and China in substantive and methodological terms. In the studies of the urban expansion of San Antonio and the development of advertising in Shanghai, spatial concepts (demographic expansion, socio-spatial divisions and segregation) and mapping tools (GIS, spatial analysis) serve to trace lines between an American and a Chinese city, and across time. All four papers contribute to a reflection about land control and management, about power and urban society, and about urban landscape and its transformation. We believe these are real and reasonable bridges between the four contributions.

As a panel, we find significant cross-fertilization between DH and geography, or even DH and social sciences. We believe that the “digital” affects the whole array of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, tearing down walls and borders, and creating bridges and intersectional analyses. We contend that “DH questions” lay at the very heart of what we have proposed. For instance, archival documents offer insight on the localized political debates that shaped the terrain of our respective sites. Similarly, oral histories, public records, contemporaneous publications help us to analyze the changes in metropolitan spatial practices over time, as well as popular responses to such shifts. We also argue that “spatial humanities” are part and parcel of DH. In fact, spatial humanities represent a major part of DH worldwide. The questions we ask start from our terrains and our disciplines, but we work through methods, tools and notions that are deeply rooted in the digital practice of humanities.

Leave a Comment