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Korean Atlases

D uring the late Joseon period (1398-1910) Korean mapmakers assembled atlases generally known as Yeojido (輿地圖) in Korean. This title is derived from the same characters in Chinese, pronounced Yudi tu (Maps of the Empire), as China had long been a source for cartographic ideas and principles. The specific historical dating and origins for the Yeojido are complex and difficult to determine precisely, as there are typically no names or production dates found on them. During the late Joseon dynasty, interest in cartography and the production of maps in general became widespread in Korea. The atlas, a set of maps bound together, was not new but it had become popular and widespread in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Korea. Previously, map production had been primarily sponsored and regulated by the royal court. During this time, the court was still a patron but a shift had occurred with the addition of a large number of private patrons. The most popular format, given current extent examples, was that of the atlas.

These atlases followed a fairly consistent configuration of maps and were created in a time when awareness of the outside world was creating pressure on Korean identity. The agenda was to portray the Korean peninsula in a number of different ways, first within the world, then within East Asia, then on its own as a nation state, and finally as the sum of its constituent parts through maps of each province. The atlas format was tightly focused on Korea and unique in East Asia, as neither China nor Japan created a format quite like it. Often referred to as thirteen map atlases, they specifically contained a Map of the World (Cheonhado 天下圖), an overall Map of Korea, a map of each of the eight provinces (paldo 八道) with administrative bodies and general typography, along with maps of neighboring countries like a Map of China, a Map of Japan, and a Map of the Ryukyu Islands. In some cases, other maps were added like those of the capital region and the capital city itself. In terms of production these atlases were either in manuscript or woodblock printed formats, then mounted as bound sets of folded single sheets or as mounted albums. Some were simply black on white while others were colored. In many cases, the atlas pages were annotated, including information about postal and military installations, annual rice production, population, historical notes, and important sites.