Making Things Digital: Early Modern Maritime East Asia and the Importance of Linked Data

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:30 PM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center)
Robert Kinnaird Batchelor Jr., Georgia Southern University
There is a well-known problem in studying Asian and in particular maritime Asian history of large gaps in terms of sources. A good example is the Fujianese merchant diaspora (Hokkien), for which the earliest source in the Min language is the Selden Map of China (Bodleian Library, ca. 1619, rediscovered 2008). Such a historical source, which shows a network of port nodes and directed (compass bearing) and un-directed route edges, offers a unique opportunity to analyze both connectivity and change, but it has required a significant amount of analysis using an array of digital tools to do this. The combination of geospatial data and network analysis combined with efforts to uncover corrections on the map through hyperspectral imaging has resulted in a unique understanding of a map in motion--changing over time to respond to historical changes in networks of ports and commodity chains. The temporality of the map and its layered nature as a physical object has implications in terms of strategies used by libraries and museums for creating data about their collections. The paper will conclude by examining how some of the linked open data strategies of the British Museum's Research Space project and Oxford's CLARIOS can take the analysis of the Selden Map further by clustering and creating temporal stories in relation to other objects like shipwreck porcelains, historical texts, other maps, and even plant specimens that relate to the map itself. The picture that emerges from simultaneous material culture and linked data approaches is uniquely suited to the study of maritime regions, especially those that through lack of sources have often been seen as secondary in world history.