MapCarte 333/365: Disputed territories of Burma, Siam and China by Anon, 1889

MapCarte333_burmaIn the late 1800s the Burmese already had a good appreciation for topographic mapping and cartography in general. They used maps for taxation and land use and also as a way of plotting military campaigns. Many of these maps were collected by British diplomats and also colonial authorities but in addition, indigenous maps by the Shan and T’ai peoples were also collected. Here, a Shan map created in 1889 relating to a border dispute between Burma and China illustrates wonderful cartographic approach using colour to represent the different areas.

This map was painted by an anonymous Shan artist in tempera on paper and it covers an area of 47 square miles along the Nam Mao (Burmese Shweli) River. There are about eighty villages and hamlets shown in green. The map text is in Chinese Shan with red areas representing the British Shan state of Möng Mäo and yellow showing Chinese territory. The colours are rich and vibrant and leave the reader in no doubt as to land ownership.

Most of the map is planimetric but the mountainscapes on the upper and right borders show the bounding mountain ranges in aspect with wonderful colour. By modern standards there’s considerable cartographic license in terms of the precision of the topographic record. In design terms, the map is a work of art and a quite sumptuous representation.


MapCarte 203/365: Mt Fuji, by anon, 1830



There’s very little that is genuinely new in cartography yet with such massive technological advances we see reinvention all the time. So it’s always useful to keep an eye on our cartographic heritage. It informs what we do because we can tease out best practice; and it shows us what has gone before so we can ensure we give credit where due.

This stunningly beautiful map of Mt Fiji from the early 1800s gives us much food for thought. The detail of the mountainscape and, in particular, the use of a side elevation to create the appearance of molehills was used earlier but used here to great effect. The fact the Fuji itself is given prominence by being depicted in the round, rather than an elevation works well and shows how different graphical treatments to similar phenomena can be used to classify importance.

There’s a fine mix of planimetric and plan oblique in the work with a coastline shown using a vignette and some sense of routes across the landscape. The surrounding text works well in the traditional vertical orientation.

Overall, a beautiful historical map. Simple.