University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Mountains, rivers and forests: the colonial mapping of southeast Asia, between observation and vernacular cartography in the 19th century

Mountains, rivers and forests: the colonial mapping of southeast Asia, between observation and vernacular cartography in the 19th century

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During British colonisation of Burma and French rule in Indochina, surveyors were sent throughout the territory to explore, measure, observe and describe it and to draw topographical maps. On the one hand, they used their own techniques and proved to be scientific actors, charting the territory on maps according to European norms. On the other hand, they collected indigenous information to help them understand an unknown territory and given that they were not always able to make proper observations themselves.

In this paper, I will concentrate on the representation of natural elements, such as mountains, rivers and vegetation to show how fundamental they have been in the mapping of territory, but also how diversely they have been depicted by different actors. European officers, Indian surveyors, Burmese foresters, Shan traders and Vietnamese administrators all have particular ways of drawing a map and describing a landscape. By analysing topographical and indigenous maps, I will try to understand these different perceptions of a territory through its constitutive elements and question the integration of vernacular knowledge in European mapping.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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