Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Mapping the Historic City: Mapmaking, Preservation Zoning, and Violence

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Mapping the Historic City: Mapmaking, Preservation Zoning, and Violence

Article excerpt


The paper presents a critique of the cartographic construction of Rattanakosin City, the historic district of Bangkok, Thailand. Drawing on critical cartography literature, I argue that Rattanakosin City has emerged from a particular intersection between cartography and historic preservation as the former is used to legitimize the latter. The paper explores how geometric lines, boundaries, and colored zones have been deployed in constructing Rattanakosin as central and as whole. The paper goes on to show that this particular cartographic construction has a hegemonic potential as it is a double silencing that eclipses outside historical geographies, while silencing and subsuming those inside under the category of "historic preservation" landuse.


Critical cartography, historic preservation, zoning, Bangkok


On the zoning maps, krung Rattanakosin or Rattanakosin City is designated by the city government as the historic core of Bangkok. Lying on the right bank of the Chao Phraya River, Rattanakosin today is the site of royal palaces, Buddhist temples, historical monuments, and government buildings. In between these sites are residential communities that have begun to move out over the decades. Rattanakosin claims a special place in Thai national imagination as a nearly sacred site of rich historical heritage. Key among the heritage sites are the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which function today not only as tourist attractions but also a site of national pride. Given its significance in the history, culture, and economy of both Bangkok and Thailand, Rattanakosin has been subject to various state interventions such as historic preservation and beautifications schemes as the city government seeks to clearly delineate its field of operation.

The paper investigates one fundamental intervention that dictates a certain way of seeing: cartographic construction. The paper explores as it deconstructs Rattanakosin as a product of cartography and historic preservation as they intersect to legitimate historical value and significance. Specifically, the paper analyzes how the city government's mapping instruments, such as building ordinances and zoning maps, have been deployed to carve out Rattanakosin as an exceptional historical space above the rest. The remainder of this paper consists of six sections. The next section draws theoretical and methodological inspiration from two separate bodies of literature, critical cartography and historic preservation. In particular, it seeks to synthesize a productive connection through which to interpret the use of cartography in historic preservation. I argue that, as lines and dots are put in place to demarcate what is historical and what is not, cartography is not a problem-free objective instrument, but a tool to conveniently map historicalness of a site while the larger, more complex historicity of that site is largely ignored. "Mapping Rattanakosin city" section introduces several building ordinances and zoning maps issued by the city government of Bangkok since the city's Bicentennial Celebrations in 1982. This section discusses how these legal-cartographic instruments, following the rise of Rattanakosin as a new cultural consciousness, are used to demarcate and legitimate spaces and boundaries, particularly the historical boundaries. "Maps as a way of seeing: Geometry and geography" section analyzes more deeply these instruments as an attempt to prescribe and direct a certain way of seeing. In so doing, it exposes the logic and rationality of seeing from the two-dimensional map. Importantly, it shows how the map's rationality and its truth claims may differ from other ways and systems of seeing. "Pictorial elegance, cartographical deletion, and historiographical violence" and "Conclusions: Double silencing" sections reflect on the violent consequences that result from an uncomfortable intersection between cartography and historic preservation, looking in particular at the historical spaces that the maps commit to, as well as those that they omit. …

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