Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Why Think Spatially?

One of the important points that I want to make about visualizations, spatial relations, and spatial history is something that I did not fully understand until I started doing this work…: visualization and spatial history are not about producing illustrations or maps to communicate things that you have discovered. It is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked, it reveals historical relations that might otherwise go unnoticed, and it undermines, or substantiates, stories upon which we build our own versions of the past.”

—Richard White, “What is Spatial History?” (2010)

Bodies and Structures enables open-ended conversations about the significance of space to history. It is a place where the grassroots of research can shape the pathways of interpretation in new ways. Above all, it is a space of encounter whose contours grow and twist and reach out in as many ways as the loosely-defined “field” of spatial history does.

The paths that follow describe in concrete detail how you as a reader can engage with the site. The remainder of this page briefly shares the intellectual aims of our Bodies and Structures project.*

An Open-Ended Conversation

“Space is the simultaneity of stories so far,” Doreen Massey wrote (2005, 9). Different experiences and articulations of place produce and invoke different concepts of space. The reverse is also true. Yet digital spatial history projects frequently rely on the cartographic map as the foundation for representing space and place. Cartographic maps, and their twenty-first century ArcGIS-based cousins, naturalize the modern cartographic imaginary as the foundation of spatial history. Locating spatial histories on a cartographic map makes it difficult to differentiate the modern cartographic imaginary—an imaginary grounded in the rationalities of capitalism and European imperialism—from the multiplicity of spatialities that actually existed.

Bodies and Structures 2.0 provincializes the cartographic map so that you can explore the simultaneity of individual experiences of a particular locale and the simultaneity of completely different places existing in the same locale. Some of our stories take place within the modern cartographic imaginary. Some describe aspects of its emergence. Others take place within spatial imaginaries defined by different principles—by biological imperatives, by affects, or by the gendered space of the household. We explore the spaces constituted by the transgressive mobilities of women on the run, and those constituted by elite actors seeking to reshape the political spaces they inhabit. Overall, Bodies and Structures 2.0 enables you to glimpse the depth of possible spatial histories while maintaining a critical distance from the cartographic map as one spatial historical framework.

Shaping the Pathways of Interpretation

Bodies and Structures 2.0 invites you to begin an open-ended conversation about how we, as scholars and students, interpret the relationships between our historical actors and the spatial structures they inhabited, encountered, and created. Each module provides its own analyses and interpretations of the people, events, locales, documents, and concepts that it discusses. As an editorial collective, we also provide a Tag Map that indexes the site’s contents by spatial concepts. But we know that other organizational strategies are possible—and that others will become visible when readers combine, visualize, or otherwise spatialize the site's materials in new ways. Above all, it is this practice of open-ended interpretation that is the goal of the site.

The site’s approach to navigation and orientation facilitates open-ended interpretation. Bodies and Structures 2.0 treats mapping as way finding. In the words of Edward Casey, the site allows mapping to “resume its original sense of charting one’s way in a given place or region” (2007, 512). Yet, rather than charting your way through “modern East Asia,” it would be more accurate to say that you will be finding your way through Bodies and Structures.

The site provides five tools to enable your wayfinding: the list of modules, the Tag Map, the Geotagged Map, the Complete Grid, and Lenses. In addition, the module pages contain Notes that indicate connections to other modules. You can also click on the Context button at any time to see where you are in the relational space of Bodies and Structures. Each of these methods will be discussed in detail in the following pages of our Guided Tour.

Spaces of Encounter

Bodies and Structures 2.0 encourages you to examine the spatial histories of “modern East Asia” in a geographically and conceptually open-ended manner. Geographically, it is a history that spans the globe. Conceptually, it is a history that encompasses myriad modes of place-making and establishing senses of self. Rather than understand “modern East Asia” as a bounded place, we approach it as a space produced through encounters between Boundaries, Environments, Rationalities, Figures, Flows and Immobilities, Imaginative Geographies, and Vehicles. These crossings, and their mutual interactions, shape the material experience and discursive representation of belonging, the formation of social bodies and ideas of the social, the constitution of subjectivities, and thus the play of power in particular historical moments. They also serve as nodal points for drawing connections across modules—they are topoi within our digital environment—and ways of tracking forms of thought and action across a range of contexts in modern East Asia.

These crossings and the encounters they generate define our work as scholars as much as they define the lives of our historical actors. Our use of “modern East Asia” to categorize the scope and the object of the project’s interventions reflects our own place as scholars. Having been trained as area specialists within the disciplines of History, Art History, and Literature, our professional and personal place-making is tied to the material and intellectual/imaginal space/places of East and Southeast Asia and to the political-economic conditions informing those locations—the archives, conferences, and classrooms through which we move and in which our bodies are emplaced; the positions for which we have been hired; the places we construct through our research and writing; the conversations in which we engage; and the specific languages we employ are all part of the place-making apparatus that is scholarship.

The challenge for us as scholars and as readers is to articulate these places and senses of self in a way that recognizes their fundamental truth—not as examples that reify our current geohistorical categories, but as windows into the everyday collisions of perceived, conceived, and lived space that constitute the history of human beings in the modern world. In that vein, Bodies and Structures 2.0 is a “flat” space. All articulations of space and place are granted equal authority. We use the Tag Map, Complete Grid Visualization, Geotagged Map, List of Modules, and Lenses to suggest new ways of categorizing these articulations. But we encourage readers to create their own interpretive strategies as well. Our historical actors—from statesmen and intellectuals down to itinerant peddlers and village tinsmiths—emplaced themselves and were emplaced, with varying degrees of self-reflexivity, within geotemporal constructs that continue to require investigation for their real and lasting impact on relations among humans and between humans and their environments.

* Read the full overview essay, “What We're Doing.”


Casey, Edward S. “Boundary, Place, and Event in the Spatiality of History.” Rethinking History 11, no. 4 (2007): 507–12.

Massey, Doreen. For Space. London: Sage, 2005.

White, Richard. “What Is Spatial History?” Accessed January 16, 2018.

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