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Transforming visualisation in museums: deep mapping for narrative coherence

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia
Photo: Pandu Adnyana
Go Xoai 7th C, Long An Museum (Sakskrit, ye dharma verse)
From Nancy Tingley (ed) 2009, "Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: from River Plan to Open Sea", Asia Society New York.

Transforming visualisation in museums: deep mapping for narrative coherence

The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism

This project undertakes ground breaking Australian research to resolve the fundamental challenges of narrative coherence for museum audiences as they explore digital cultural atlases. Addressing narrative coherence provides a structure for interpretation, as users navigate, explore and creatively reorganise these heterogeneous datasets. As part of this investigation, the project will integrate a unique heritage dataset—the Atlas of Maritime Buddhism (Atlas)—which has accumulated historic evidence for the spread of Buddhism from India to Korea through the seaports of Southeast Asia. Its pan-Asian spatially and temporally enabled sources are significantly diverse in both type and format (e.g. archaeological materials, travellers’ accounts and historic gazetteers to name a few). The aim of the proposed research is to develop a pioneering narrative-driven deep mapping schema, an information visualisation framework for interactively exploring the narrative patterns, processes and phenomena in the Atlas. This schema will investigate narrative coherence through the experimental application of the world's first deep mapping data browser—a navigational interface developed in a 360-degree 3D (omnidirectional) virtual environment.

The Atlas is of great academic importance as it contains evidence that counterbalances prevailing narratives which foreground the overland Silk Road, and neglect the importance of pan-Asian maritime countries and Buddhism entrepreneurship in the expansion of trade from 2nd century BC-12th century AD. Comprising multiple overlapping chronological events, the Atlas supports diverse types of historic evidence from disparate spatial locations represented by approximately 170 generalised information layers. With contributions from researchers around the world, it includes geospatial coordinates, gazetteers for hundreds of sites, images of archaeological sites and artifacts.

Bringing the unique story of maritime Buddhism into the public domain for the first time, this project will have highly visible outcomes in Australian, Chinese and Hong Kong museums. It positions Australia as a leader of digital museological innovation in Asia and worldwide.

Project date


Funding type

ARC Linkage Project


Prof Sarah Kenderdine, Chief Investigator, The University of New South Wales
Prof Michael Thielscher, Chief Investigator, The University of New South Wales
Em/Prof Lewis, Lancaster, Partner Investigator, University of California, Berkeley
Prof Jeffrey Shaw, Partner Investigator, City University of Hong Kong
Prof Jianxiong Ge, Partner Investigator, Fudan University, China
Dr Lynda Kelly, Partner Investigator, Australian National Maritime Museum
Mr Li Zhenhua, Partner Investigator, Chronus Art Center