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Nagasaki Harbor, 1741: Navigating the Many Dimensions of a Map

Silences and Blank Space


One of the many aspects of cartographic study that has been getting a lot of attention recently by scholars is the concept of “silence,” or unlabeled regions of a map. While it is impossible to know the motive of the cartographer who made this Nagasaki map, by looking at some examples of silence throughout it, we might be able to piece together information that exclusively looking at the labeled region does not provide. For instance, in the section on the left, though there are clearly a structure drawn on the top of a hill, there is an absence of any sort of label or indication as to what purpose this structure served. As a result of this, it appears fruitless to speculate what the many structures of this variety throughout the map are or why they went unlabeled; however, we might assume that their presence on the map signifies that there were other structures or forms of infrastructure nearby whose depiction failed to fit the mapmaker’s motive. Given this assumption, we might hypothesize that structures outside of the city and coastline were less important to whoever ordered the map, as those two areas seemed to be the most detailed.

Unlabeled path from [Manuscript map of Nagasaki, its harbor and surrounding region]. ca. 1741-65.

Unlabeled path from [Manuscript map of Nagasaki, its harbor and surrounding region]. ca. 1741-65.

This section, located due east from the city plan, contains an even-stranger omission: a path that, apparently, leads to nowhere! Why the mapmaker would bother including this road in the map at all is a mystery, and yet it seems safe to assume that the road had a particular importance, given that there are only four roads that leave Nagasaki at all. The vividness of the red roads, though, strikes the viewer, and this may provide a clue about further motives of the cartographer. If the map was supposed to emphasize coastal formations along with the city plan, then this would strengthen the assertion that this map was for administrative or governmental use, as was proposed earlier.