Digitized Historical Maps of Southeast Asia

Not all that long ago, if you were an academic and you wanted a map, then you pretty much had to ask a professional cartographer to help you. These days that’s no longer the case.

With open source tools like Quantum GIS (QGIS), and with the help of training manuals, you can start making your own maps in a matter of hours.


That said, in doing so, you will quickly figure out that it is a lot easier to take maps or GIS files that have already been made by someone else, and to adapt them, such as by using an existing map as a base map, and then creating layers of new information that relate to whatever project you are doing on top of the base map.

This is where life can get frustrating, because not all digitized maps are the same. People digitize maps in different ways and this creates incompatibilities between some files and some GIS programs.

The US military made very nice topographic maps of Vietnam, for instance, and they have been digitized, but they are in GeoPDF which QGIS doesn’t accept, and which is a pain to convert to another format.


So this being the case, it’s always nice to come across digitized maps that are “user friendly.” I found this blog a while ago. It has some nice historical maps of Cambodia.

Then today I found some that the Library of Congress (LOC) has digitized.

Today I was reading a 1903 issue of the British North Borneo Herald about a guy who was prospecting for coal in the Serudong Valley. I wanted to see where that was, and I found that the LOC has digitized a map of British North Borneo in 1903 where I was easily able to locate the place I was looking for.


What is even better, is that you can download files of the maps from the LOC web page, and I was easily able to add the JP2 and TIFF files that they have there into QGIS as a raster layer. I could therefore use these maps as base maps and create layers of my own information on top of them. For history projects, that is fantastic.


In looking around a bit more on the LOC site, I came across this beautiful map of Vietnam in 1890.

Also, the LOC site allows you to view the map in full screen mode and to pan and zoom in. All of that is wonderful too.

Oh, and the first picture above is of a Russian topographic map of Bangkok. During the Cold War, the Russians and the Americans both “mapped the world.” Those maps are all more or less “out there,” but again, finding them and finding them in file formats that you can work with is not always easy.


Southeast Asia in (Digital) Watercolor

There are various digital tools that have been created that can enable one to engage in scholarship in new ways.

Then there are other tools that. . . are just cool.


The fine folks at Stamen Design have taken the OpenStreetMap platform and painted it in watercolor.

Go take a look. Zoom in on your favorite places and see what they look like in watercolor. That’s Jakarta above.

Kuala Lumpur looks nice:


And the colonial-era development of Phnom Penh looks good in watercolor too:


Oh, and Singapore looks very colorful:


Again, I’m not exactly sure what we can do with this (other than to create some funky images like the ones here), but. . . it is cool to see places in watercolor.