Cartography Seminar Series, Mahindra Humanities Center
Standard accounts about the formation of world geography in the early modern period describe world maps as the result of a process of empirical accumulation of data as result of navigation and exploration, mostly through the agency of European actors. This talk argues that in the case of China another dynamic was at play. China was initially off-limits to explorers and surveyors while at the same time possessing a sophisticated cartographic tradition of its own. I show that between the 16th and the 18th century, European cartographers relied on the translation of Chinese world maps for the representation of East Asia. Simultaneously, there was a mirror process of translation of European world maps in China and Inner Asia, by which knowledge about the world outside the Sinosphere was integrated into Chinese cartography. These two phenomena were inter-connected through the stories of a series of go-betweens and a number of iterative movements. They resulted in the production of hybrid tradition of cartography integrating features of both Chinese and European world maps.