Book Project:



The Archipelago 

There are three ways to perceive an island chain.

1. If seen from above—a perspective that world maps and globes attempt to simulate—islands appear irretrievably separate and isolated from one another.

2. The same idea of separation is also present if you descend like a traveler to the surface, except that now, as you move, you experience each domain in sequence: land - water - land, and again water.

3. However, if you take a ride in a submarine, or perhaps a diving bell, your perspective will suddenly change. Now, you could perceive that the separation is only an illusion. What from above appeared as islands are indeed the tips of a deeply interconnected mountain chain.

The image of the archipelago describes the form of the early modern world, both in terms of geographical and cultural differences. With the benefit of historical distance, and looking from above, one can almost be certain of the neatly distinct profile of cultures and ways of being, of knowing, and of making knowledge in places such as China, Europe, the Islamicate Middle East, Africa, and the Americas. At surface level, one will encounter, as many early modern travelers did, both continuities and immense gaps between these places. But the deeper one goes under the surface, the connections still persist, even though with depth there is less sunlight to make them manifest.

World Geography in Sino-Western Encounters

︎Connected Cartographies

Is a monograph on the translation of cartographic knowledge between China and the West in the age of first contacts. The book is currently under contract with Cambridge University Press and is expected to appear in 2025

"Connected Cartographies" offers a novel viewpoint on the "Age of Discovery," integrating methodologies from global history, the history of science, and translation studies. The traditional narrative of this epoch tends to center around intrepid explorers, predominantly European men, who expanded the world map through their daring voyages. However, "Connected Cartographies" takes the reader on a different journey, demonstrating that the act of translation played an equally vital, yet often overlooked, role in shaping geographic knowledge.

In the throbbing heart of the early modern global world, translation was ubiquitous. Accelerated by the engines of trade and religious fervor, it facilitated unprecedented encounters between cultures. The book argues that cartographic knowledge was shared and developed via this cross-cultural exchange, particularly in the context of Sino-Western interactions. Although China's existence was known, the specifics of its geography remained elusive, being inaccessible to direct observation or survey until the 18th century.

However, China had a robust cartographic tradition, scientifically grounded, albeit different from European norms. As the book reveals, the translation of Chinese maps opened a window for Europeans to gain insight into China's geographical complexity. Yet, this only sketches one facet of the intricate process of translation. In reverse, European maps were also translated in China, leading to an intricate, bidirectional exchange of cartographic knowledge and maps. This vivid tapestry of intellectual movement underscores the significance of translation during the early modern period.

While scholars like Robert Batchelor have acknowledged the role of translation in unique cartographic creations like the Selden map, "Connected Cartographies" goes further, illustrating how cartographic translation was a systemic and dominant phenomenon in Sino-Western exchanges. The translation paradigm provided an alternate, yet powerful, method for generating maps and cartographic knowledge, rivalling empirical observation and exploration.

Through the lens of translation, we can reassess the roles of significant figures like Matteo Ricci and Ortelius, towering giants who were pivotal in the early modern globalization of scientific knowledge. Concurrently, it brings lesser-known actors, such as Juan de Borja, Juan Gorge da Barbuda, Matteo Neroni, and Manchu translator Dahai, into the limelight. "Connected Cartographies" uncovers the story of these figures and the role they played in the shared intellectual journey that helped shape our modern worldview. Several distinguishing factors render "Connected Cartographies" an outstanding addition to the existing body of scholarship. The book employs an array of fresh sources discovered in archives and libraries worldwide, many of which have been uncharted territory in English language academia until now. One remarkable example is the Manchu-translated version of Matteo Ricci's world map, which intriguingly reveals that the Manchus were familiar with European cartographic knowledge before their takeover of China in 1644.

Furthermore, the research methodology involved meticulous analysis of primary and secondary materials across six languages - Chinese, Manchu, Latin, Italian, French, and Dutch. Such a multilingual approach has unearthed compelling historical evidence, demonstrating the interwoven connections that characterized the early modern global world. Hence, "Connected Cartographies" stands as a significant contribution to the study of global history during the early modern period.

Moreover, the book elucidates the reciprocal nature of the cultural and scientific exchanges between East Asia and early modern Europe. It underscores the remarkable extent and influence of cartographic works transported between the two ends of Eurasia. The ripples of these exchanges continue to shape our mutual perceptions and depictions, testifying to their enduring impact.