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Friday, December 29, 2017

The Power of Maps

"There was no evidence that Siam had launched any attempt to draw a map of its own geo-body. Only in 1866, when he knew that a French exploring team was surveying the areas along the Mekhong, did Mongkut realise that Siam must do likewise... There is no record of any Siamese survey of its boundary until the 1880s...

Chulalongkorn explicitly expressed his desire to have the border areas reorganized and mapped as a measure to counter the French...

For the first time in history, during January-July 1884 Bangkok troops were accompanied by a group of mapping officials headed by McCarthy himself to survey the territories around Luang Phrabang and Vientiane. From then on until mid-1893, the so-called Siamese expedition to suppress the Ho was always accompanied by surveyors and mapping technicians. Indeed map- making was a major mission of every expedition

It seems that Siam expected mapping to be the means which could deter- mine once and for all the boundary of the realm. By mapping, that is to say, the ambiguity of margins was expected to be eradicated and the clear-cut limits of the realm of Siam would appear. Mapping technology was no longer alien or suspicious to them. Apparently they realized that in order to counter the French claim, modern geography was the only geographical language the West would hear and only a modern map could make an argument. Mapping had frightened the court in the early years of the reign. Now it became an indispensable technology to decide and establish the geo-body of Siam... The ultimate loser was not, in fact, Siam. The losers were those tiny Chiefdoms along the routes of both the Siamese and the French forces. Not only were they conquered - a fate by no means peculiar to them - but they were also transformed into integral parts of the new political space defined by the new notions of sovereignty and boundary...

THE MAP oF BOUNDED SIAM appeared for the first time after the Paknam crisis of 1893. Ironically, it was eventually an outcome of cooperation between Britain, France, and Siam. By 1893, only the boundary and map of the western front between Siam and Burma were finished. On all other fronts, except for a short boundary at Battambang and the one between Kedah and Perak, there were only topographical surveys and sketches. So all the data and work done by the Siamese and French mapping officials were gathered. together with British cooperation. In 1897 two maps were produced by S1am. The first one was published in England. 1 The other map, published in Calcutta under the title Phaenthi phraratchaanakhet sayam r.s. 116 (Map of the Boundary of Siam 1897), was drawn by two Thai officials named Son and Baeb. 2 Both maps stated clearly that whenever there was a gap in the survey Siam, the maps drawn by the British and French had been cop1ed to fill m the missing sections. Practically and symbolically, Siam had its first geo-body and its representation made, filled, and shaped, at least in part, by Western powers"

--- Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation / Thongchai Winichakul
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