Project History

The CHGIS project was largely inspired by the work of several scholars:

Prof. Tan Qixiang (photo), [1911-1992] the former director of Fudan University's Center for Historical Geographical Studies, CHG oversaw the production of the groundbreaking Historical Atlas of China. In these eight volumes, Tan and his colleagues at CHG compiled maps on the national, regional, and provincial levels for particular years during each of the Chinese Dynasties. Many of the senior researchers who worked with Tan Qixiang on the original Historical Atlas of China also contributed to the production of the CHGIS database, under the editorial direction of Prof. Zou Yilin (photo). Please see the members page for a complete list of the Fudan University, CHG contributors.

Prof. Ge Jianxiong (photo) worked with Tan Qixiang, and was Tan's successor as director of CHG (from 1992-2007). Prof. Ge took over the management of materials used in the compilation of the Historical Atlas of China and assembled a team of experts at CHG who compiled the CHGIS datasets. Prof. Ge currently serves as the Director of the Fudan University Library, and maintains his supervisory role for the the CHGIS project.

Prof. Man Zhimin (photo) was a former director of CHG at Fudan University, and served as the CHGIS Project Manager at Fudan University. Under Man's direction, the fundamental research for CHGIS is carried out by a team of senior researchers, and the digitization of annotated paper maps is carried out with a staff of GIS technicians and data entry personnel. Prof. Man is an expert in historical climate change in China, and is the co-developer of the CHGIS database model with Harvard Project Manager, Lex Berman.

Prof. G. William Skinner (photo), [1923-2008] developed models of China's hierarchical regional systems which shaped the objectives and methods of CHGIS. His early trilogy Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China (1964-65) showed how periodic markets define local spatial-cum-temporal systems, and positioned the three levels of market towns as the lower rungs of China's urban hierarchy. His essays in The City in Late Imperial China (1977) conceived of China's socioeconomic landscape in terms of regional hierarchies of cities and towns, each serving as the node of a regional or local territorial system. The Structure of Chinese History (1985) theorized the link between China's spatial structure, so conceived, and historiography. After 1989, Skinner developed a method of Regional Systems Analysis for China, Japan and France, making use of GIS layers and associated databases.

Prof. Robert Hartwell (photo) passed away in 1996 and bequeathed datasets that he and Marianne Colson Hartwell created under the auspices of his Chinese Historical Software, Ltd. to Harvard Yenching Institute. These materials included a functioning set of GIS datasets for the Chinese Dynasties, from Tang to Ming, which were based on the concept of "co-location," or the use of GIS representations of modern county-level administrative units as building blocks to depict the approximate shapes of historical areas. Making use of boundary data for 1990 counties to represent historical units that occupied roughly the same areas, Hartwell drew in approximate line boundaries to divide the contemporary units to fit the historical situations and therefore provide an approximation of the historical unit's area. Although the resulting boundaries are, in many cases, problematic representations, the Hartwell GIS remains an interesting heuristic GIS tool for sorting, querying, and creating digital maps for the years 742, 1080, 1200, 1280, 1391.

The CHGIS website at Harvard University has made the Hartwell GIS data available for download, and they may still be used as a means of generating approximate spatial representations of historical administrative units. However the Hartwell GIS data is not historically sourced or otherwise correlated with the CHGIS data. See also: Peter K. Bol Intro to the Hartwell GIS (WORD format)

Prof. William Lavely, (photo) Sociology Dept. and the Jackson School of Intl Studies at the University of Washington, has done extensive work on demography in China. Prof. Lavely was one of the principal researchers responsible for China in Time and Space, which provided the first freely available combination of both statistical data and nationwide GIS layers for China. In addition to numerous demographic studies, Prof. Lavely has also developed a Coding Scheme for the Language Atlas of China , which makes use of the CITAS GIS data to map linguistic areas. And example of the majority languages for each county is available here.

Prof. Lawrence Crissman, (photo) Director of the Asian Spatial Information and Analysis Network (ACASIAN), spent decades compiling a series of GIS datasets on China, other Asian countries and the states of the former Soviet Union. The China datasets are of particular importance, as they combine information collected from both contemporary and historical map sheets, remote sensing data, and a temporal database of all official Guobiao (or National Standard) geocodes that have been assigned to administrative units since 1980. The latter database of Guobiao Codes, which identify all administrative units at the Province, Prefecture, and County levels, keeps track of any changes in the units from year to year. The ability to select units by time, and to simultaneously extract information about the preceding and subsequent units that occupied the same territory, was the key element of Crissman's GIS initial draft of a Spatio-Temporal Database Model for CHGIS.

Prof. Peter Bol, (photo) the Carswell Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University, is a scholar of Song Dynasty intellectual history who actively pursues spatial analysis of historical processes in China. Bol's field work with graduate students were developed into a variety of local history projects, and Bol has been leading the development of the China Biographical Database project.

Lex Berman, (photo) Project Manager of CHGIS and affiliate of the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis, recieved a Fulbright Scholarship in the field of Chinese Geography, and has expertise in database modeling, GIS webmapping, and website design and graphics. Serving as Project Manager for CHGIS, Lex integrated GIS datasets from a variety of sources into an authoritative online search engine and open API: TGAZ. Lex also developed projects such as ChinaMap for Modern Chinese GIS data, JapanMap, QGIS Workshop, and maintains various webmap projects for CGA.