Report on East Asia Map Sets in Harvard Map Collection
March -- May 2001

Mark Byington

The database resulting from this survey of holdings in the Harvard Map Collection consists of all East Asian maps sets (being two or more map sheets to a set) in the regular card catalog. Most map sets are identified in the card catalog with a triangle placed at the end of the call number. Most of these have associated folders in the file cabinets to hold the index sheets for the set. There are a few exceptions, which are marked in the database as comments and will be mentioned below.

I began the survey by checking each card in the card catalog for some indication of a call number representing a set. After listing all of these call numbers I checked the index folders (containing the index sheets for map sets) to make sure the cards and folders tallied. There were a few call numbers for which no folder could be found, though an index sheet was usually available with the maps themselves. A few call numbers led to dead sets -- i.e., sets whose call numbers have been changed but whose cards still remained in the catalog. A small number of sets had no index folder because the sets represented multiple views of a single area, rendering an index sheet unnecessary.

Working with the template prepared by Lex Berman and myself, I entered the basic data for each set available from the index cards. Additional data will require direct access to the maps themselves, which I did not have during this initial survey. Each entry contains the HMC call number, the number of index sheets and map sheets in the set, the name of the set (usually a toponym), the name of the country or countries represented, the approximate data of the set, the language of the set, a more specific name for the region represented, the scale of the maps, and four coordinate figures that can be used to generate a bounding box for the coverage of the set. Finally there is a comment box with a brief description of the maps and their coverage (usually taken from the index card and observation of the index sheets) and any other comments that seemed useful.

Additional fields were included for expansion of the database to include a breakdown of each map in a given set. This will allow for a general set identifier to link the maps as part of a set, and a specific sheet identifier unique to each map sheet. I entered data for one such breakdown of a set (7823 ZHE4 1914) and appended it to the end of the database spreadsheet. I include some notes on this below.

The database consists of 305 entries, which represents the entire collection of East Asian maps in the HMC as best as I could determine. Of these 305 sets, there are six sets of over 1,000 map sheets each:

7820 1911 with 2,274 sheets covering China and Korea
7820 1915 with 1,404 sheets covering China
G7820 s200.56 with 1,622 sheets covering China (the Russian set)
7960 1899 with 1,344 sets covering Japan
7960 1952 with 1,257 sheets covering Japan
7960 1968 with 1,777 sheets covering Japan

The remaining sets consist of from two to several hundred map sheets each. The majority of the sets are pre-1945 Japanese maps, which often provide fair to excellent coverage but are rarely complete sets.

The dating of the map sets is often unclear. While the date is intended to be represented as the last four digits in the HMC call number, I have found this very often to be in error. A look at the index cards will show considerable variation in the dating of maps, with many sets having been engraved over several years. I have attempted to enter the most accurate date possible in the database, though examination of the actual maps may vary somewhat from the dates I entered. When a map appears to have been a reprint of an earlier engraving I note this in the comments.

As noted above, I did a break down of one map set (7823 ZHE4 1914) and entered the data for each map sheet. This format should allow the completed database to be searchable to the individual map sheet, with descriptive data and a bounding box available for each sheet to aid the search. I did, however, come across some problems that will have to be addressed as this project continues. When I compared the eleven map sheets of this small set with the index sheet, I noticed that the leftmost column on the index sheet (marking which map sheets are in the HMC) has been shifted by one, which would result in an inaccurate search result. Also, the bounding boxes drawn on the index sheet for each map sheet are off by a fairly wide margin from the actual coverage. To correct this problem, a new index sheet would have to be drawn (preferably on a more legible base map) with more accurate bounding blocks, and the map sheets indicated in the leftmost column of the index sheet would need to be properly ordered.

This is one small example, but it shows the kinds of problems that must be dealt with eventually as the database project advances. The index sheets are usually very accurate, but I noted some exceptions, and there are likely many more that I did not notice. The index sheets themselves are often on base maps that have been copied many times so that they are often not legible. If they are to be scanned eventually to be used in an interactive search engine, I recommend that some of them be redrawn for this purpose.

Finally, I should point out that the sets included in this preliminary database represent only a small part of the total card catalog for East Asia. The majority of call numbers are for individual maps, none of which have been included in the present database. In terms of the total number of map sheets in the HMC East Asian holdings, however, the majority are included in this database as sheets in the larger sets described above. By my estimate the number of man hours needed to enter the individual sheets (of the sets and of single-sheet call numbers) will be more than triple those that I required to generate this database. If bounding boxes are to be entered for each map in a set, much more time will be needed to verify the accuracy of the index sheets and to correct them if necessary, and direct access to the actual maps will be necessary to accomplish this.

Report prepared July 2001