Commissioning Indigenous maps, James G. Scott in Burma
Marie de Rugy
The richness of the Scott map collection at the Cambridge University Library makes it something of an Aladdin’s cave. The collection was progressively built up between 1886 and 1901, during the British conquest of Upper Burma, from parcels regularly sent by James George Scott (1851-1935) to his brother, Robert Forsyth Scott, the Master of St. John’s College.
Drawn on paper or cloth, with a pencil or in color, as hastily scribbled sketches or elaborated maps, the items show a great variety of forms and formats. Some of them may have predated the conquest, whereas others were certainly commissioned by British officers.
The analysis of these Burmese and Shan maps drawn before or in the early years of colonization in Upper Burma shows how enriching it can be for imperial history as well as history of science to take account of Indigenous mapping. Doing so contributes to a social history of colonization as it tells of the colonial encounter and the way these maps may have been commissioned and used by the British.
Painted cloth map showing the road from Hlaingdet to Nyaungshwe
Painted cloth map showing the road from Hlaingdet to Nyaungshwe. Unknown creator. Unknown date. Cambridge University Library, Scott collection L13.28.
This map represents the road from Hlaingdet to Nyaungshwe, a town bordering Inle Lake. It depicts the main rivers and mountains as well as the lake. Most importantly for the British, it provides a list of place names along the different roads that would prove useful for drawing further maps. It also mentions an author on the back, calling it "Our staff map on the way up".
Painted cloth map showing Meiktila and the country south
Painted cloth map showing Meiktila and the country south. Unknown author. Unknown date. Cambridge University Library, Scott collection LR13.25.
This map represents parts of the Meiktila district, in central Burma (nowadays Myanmar). It mentions, in Burmese, the "golden land, land of horses", delineated in yellow. It certainly refers to the period before the British annexation, when the Burmese king had given lands to the horsemen serving the crown, either at the court or in the military, for their families and descendants.
Detail of map on paper, with pencil, depicting Ko-ga-yine Circle
Detail of map on paper, with pencil, depicting Ko-ga-yine Circle. Unknown author. Unknown date. Cambridge University Library, Scott collection LL9.87.
Drawn on paper, without any scale or legend, the map represents an administrative entity within a district, using a Burmese way of depicting the hills and a pagoda, with the place names for circles, rivers and villages as well as some distances in Burmese. It was sent from Hlaingdet on 10 January 1887, and received in Cambridge on 16 November. It reveals an attempt at commensurability in the context of military activity against dacoits.
Marie de Rugy is a Lecturer in Modern History at Sciences Po, Strasbourg, France. She has published one monograph, the English translation of which will be published soon (Imperial Borderlands: Maps and Territory-Building in the Northern Indochinese Peninsula (1885-1914), Brill, 2021), and several articles on cartography and empire in South-East Asia.