Digital atlas of Indonesian history
Digital atlas of Indonesian history
Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2010
ISBN 978-87-91114-66-3, DVD + pb guide £25
Reviewed by Nick Ford
University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
It’s a real pleasure to receive and review this work. Given that it is a digitised and expanded version of Robert Cribb’s (2000) book, Historical atlas of Indonesia (Nias/Curzon Press) it makes sense to begin by providing some outline of the previous volume.
An incredible amount of work went into the Historical atlas of Indonesia, in what must have been a labour of love upon the part of Robert Cribb. The collection of over 300 (truly excellent) maps created, discussed and annotated for the book were structured in five sections; Landscape and Environment, Peoples, State Polities until 1800, The Netherlands East Indies, and War, Revolution and Political Transformation 1942 to the Present. Of course the value of maps lies in their spatial presentation of vast amounts of information, which enables this work to cover so much ground in a mere 256 pages. It is also important to stress that although an atlas, the sections comprised well composed, clearly expressed and bibliographically supported writing, rather than the sparse and basic text customarily found in atlases.
You really have to see this work to appreciate both the quality and richness of the content, which can barely be conveyed within the limits of a book review. Just to give some indication the chapter on ‘Peoples’, covers not only ethnic groups, but also prehistory, both historical and contemporary migrations, language groups and sub-groups, distributions of Pallawa and Kawi inscriptions, other modern Indic scripts, literacy, the vicissitudes of religious histories, urbanization, and population. Admittedly my original academic background was in geography, but I would go as far as to say that given its enormous complexity and diversity much wider research into the Indonesian archipelago can greatly benefit from at least an introductory reference to such maps.
Created approximately a decade after the original book the digital atlas is both an updated and expanded version. In terms of core content the main update is in a sixth chapter, ‘The Reform Era 1999 to the Present’, including extensive new maps on elections, decentralisation, ethnic and religious, conflict, natural disasters, and borders. A set of extras comprises printable base maps, scanned images from van Gelder’s classic Schoolatlas van Nederlandische Ooste-Indie, and a directory of stable internet links to historical maps of the Indonesian archipelago available online. This draws together a wonderful collection of those evocative early attempts to map the archipelago and wider Southeast Asia. There is also scope for future updates of the digital atlas through registration.
The Digital atlas of Indonesian history can serve as a valuable and useful resource for a very wide audience, for teaching, as a basis or contributing spatial dimension, for research for an enormous range of disciplines at different levels, or just as a volume to browse out of pure interest. It will also be useful for many scholars to have this on their laptops when out on fieldwork in Indonesia.
Given that today you would be pushed to find a copy of the original book for much less than a hundred pounds, priced at £25 the Digital atlas is also good value. In short this atlas will be appreciated by anyone fascinated by the extraordinary archipelago. My thanks go to Robert Cribb and NIAS Press for all the meticulous work that has gone into making this available.