Census, Maps, and Museums

by Saki Miyata

In Chapter 10 of Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson explains censuses, maps, and museums as institutions of power which lead colonial states to imagine their dominions. Anderson explains one of the institutions, maps, as something that is “nothing visible on the ground, but demarcating an exclusive sovereignty wedged between other sovereignty”. Among the three given institutional powers, maps were one of the most interesting and relatable topic to me.

The spread of “official” maps creates an imagined shape of “our” nation, where “we” live and belong. These illustrated maps of territories however are not a concrete line but can be changed throughout history. Anderson gives an example of “imagined ties” between the widespread Dutch colonial territories by illustrating “maps-as-logos”, by using colors to show how the places were all connected.

A similar effect was brought up in class during the discussion as we examined the Japanese wartime textbook, which indicates maps of Japanese territories and the world map. This textbook was a relevant example of this week’s chapter, since the textbook convinced us how the spread of maps with color usage and the world map of Japanese being in the center was distributed through the educational system creating mindset of where Japan is.

I experienced the influence of maps and the mind-set created by them when I went to a school in Canada. Since Canada uses a world map in which England is placed in the center, it was a different “map” from what I saw in Japanese textbooks, where Japan was illustrated in the center. I immediately thought the map was wrong, and was even offended to see Japan placed at the far right of the map, like it didn’t matter, since I was able to imagine people I know and society inside this map of Japan.

When being constantly reminded of where we are connect to and belong to, we tend to look towards the things we are familiar with rather than a map of some foreign country. It is also impossible to actually imagine people living in the “uncolored pieces of the map”, thus only seeing it as a land. This reflects a colonial state of mind, of “filling in “the empty boxes that was not yet their territory.

As a recent example, maps are today not only an instrument to imagine a nation, but also colored and labeled in differently in different occasions, perspectives, in multiple places. Feeling strong sense of attachment towards “Tsu-gaku kuiki 通学区域 (school district)” in Japan could be an example. Throughout the nation, when attending public elementary school, students must go to the school which are assigned to each school district. This system creates the sense of community, since the boundary of who attend which school is clearly illustrated. Thus when students move up in middle school, and introduce which elementary they are from, people easily could imagine which part of the city they are from.

Reference

Anderson, B. (1991). Census, map, and museum. In Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Rev. and extended ed.). London: Verso.

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