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Taiwan’s history, culture mapped in cyberspace

Historians and information technology experts from the Academia Sinica released a Web-based Geographic Information System (WebGIS) Atlas containing hundreds of maps of Taiwan’s historical culture and natural resources over a 400-year time frame.
“To show environmental changes in the past to students, a teacher from an elementary school can easily superimpose a local map onto another to show natural resources in that area at different times.” Fan I-chun, associate research fellow of the Institute of History and Philology at the Academia Sinica

At a press conference the result of a two-year research project funded by the National Science Council (NSC) was announced, scientists said the interactive database involving history, current knowledge and advanced information technology could be regarded as a virtual center for Taiwan studies. According to Academia Sinica Vice President and project investigator Liu Tsui-jung, the group has turned documents from different eras on diverse subjects into hundreds of base maps, such as topographic maps, geological maps, census maps, historical maps and others. The 400-year time frame includes different periods ranging from the Dutch occupation and Spanish rule, the Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and the Japanese era to the present.

In addition, Liu said, researchers produced “thematic maps,” which can be classified into diverse categories, ranging from population distribution, religion, education, national defense, transportation, economic, industrial and public health to Aboriginal culture.

“The database will be a useful platform in different fields to conduct interdisciplinary researches,” Liu said.

Fan I-chun, an associate research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology at the Academia Sinica, said the database of maps could be multifunctional because users can produce maps based on their needs.

“To show environmental changes in the past to students, a teacher from an elementary school can easily superimpose a local map onto another to show natural resources in that area at different times,” Fan said.

Similarly, Fan said, users can find out what jurisdiction their home fell under in the Qing Dynasty or if any churches were established nearby in the period of Japanese colonization. Defense zones in different periods, changes in river courses or the Taipei train map of 80 years ago can be easily retrieved.

To further promote Taiwan studies, an English introduction will be added. Foreign researchers interested in using the database, however, are required to be familiar with Chinese. Currently, free access to the database maintained by the Academia Sinica remains unavailable to the public, due to unsolved intellectual property problems. NSC deputy minister Hsieh Ching-chih said the council intends to make part of the knowledge-based database available to the public after solving a number of these problems.