Virtual Shanghai

At our first GISSIG meeting, Christian Henriot gave us an overview of his Virtual Shanghai project. The project, which is only about 18 months old, grew out of Christian’s approach to, as he puts it, “writing history differently” by seeking out alternative sources. He began by combining historical photographs with visual narratives. Later, out of his work with the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative and TimeMap tools, he was able to combine his research data with historial maps and create new maps as well. The result is the development of a platform that brings historical documents, photographs, and maps together with historical narrative.

Visual Narrative

Christian created this combined resource and research platform with the help of a full-time programmer and a cartographer. The main data sets are text, maps and images. His collection of maps of China were found mostly outside of China. Since he is not given access to data for the maps as one might easily find, for example, for a map of Paris, he is having to manually enter records including street names, area names, buildings, etc. The collection on display includes 220 orginal maps and about 45 georectified maps.


The georectified maps of Shanghai are viewable to the level of the city block, using either an incorporated ArcIMS html viewer, or a more specialized html viewer developed by the Institut des Sciences de l’Homme. This customized viewer brings together photographs, map data and incorporates a typology selector to choose various combinations of data to view. Particularly valuable is a very intuitive timeline feature that charts the data selected to view along the timeline and then allows the user to select a specific range of time within which to display that data. Selecting a specific data point–a hospital, for example–displays a thumbnail view of a corresponding photograph, if one exists.

Christian Henriot

Christian makes most all of the data is made freely available. Only very high resolution maps are protected, though Christian makes them available freely to researchers who request access. Visit the site at

Christian Henriot is the Digital Humanities Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center for 2006-07. He is a historian of modern China at the Institut d’Asie Orientale at Lyon, France.

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