The Royal Geographical Society’s Hong Kong chapter has invited me to speak on our changing understanding of Angkor and Southeast Asia pre-modern history. (It’s June 5, for anyone who’s in Hong Kong.) It requires slides and one thing I lack is a decent map of Southeast Asia’s ancient sites.
I had naively assumed a publisher could create these. My publisher (of “The Story of Angkor”) did source a map of the key monuments at Siem Reap and a map showing ancient sites in Cambodia, but it didn’t have the resources to create a map from scratch highlighting the key sites I wanted, both in and around Cambodia.
A little annoyed, I asked the guys who run the art department at my day-job office how to create or source maps – which they do occasionally for our magazines. They find it a painful, labor-intensive process. I’ve spent a day Googling around; surely there must be a simple, open-source mapmaking site or service. The high calibre of speakers at the RGS (famous explorers, historians, geographers, scientists and writers included…gulp) means I need to deliver something good.
Well, there are mapmaking sites, ranging from free to paid-f0r, but the free ones are definitely not simple. You either need to understand a bit of coding (which I do not) or you must satisfy yourself with Google Maps or Google-Map like services that allow you to tag sites but not necessarily create historical maps (such as annotating a region with a historical, out-of-use name). Cartography sites offer incredible riches for people steeped in this stuff, but for amateurs like me, they are bewildering and seem to involve a huge investment in time.
I’m probably missing a trick, so if anyone has a suggestion, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ve been playing with Google Maps, to identify a handful of key sites across the region. You can see my rather pathetic attempt here.