Digital Atlas of Indonesian History

Robert Cribb

NIAS Press 2010
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011
Robert Cribb's Historical Atlas of Indonesia (2000) was an outstanding work, with one of my few criticisms that it was too expensive to be used as widely as it ought to be. A decade later, the Digital Atlas of Indonesian History is an updated version in electronic form.

What's new?

The Digital Atlas adds a sixth chapter, on events since the fall of Suharto in 1998. This covers Habibie's presidency, corruption and the status of the armed forces, and the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections, along with electoral politics and changes in political parties; it also covers decentralization and secession issues (East Timor, Aceh, local Islamic law, revival of sultans) and ethnic and religious conflict (Kalimantan, Maluku, the Bali bombings), natural disasters, and border disputes with Malaysia and East Timor.

This is important material, but it does all seem a bit negative. As a balance, it would have been good to have had something on Indonesia's impressive economic growth over the last decade, perhaps illustrating how the gains from that — and accompanying improvements in living standards — have been distributed around the country.

There are some nice maps in this chapter, again showing good variety in subject and presentation, but there are also some which are not so immediately appealing and will be mostly useful for reference. (The electronic format presumably allows for the inclusion of more maps.) The detailed presentation of electoral results is pretty dry, for example, and there are fairly sparse maps of every province which just show the kapubaten administrative boundaries.

In addition to the new chapter there are apparently some modifications and additions to the earlier chapters, but since my copy of the printed Atlas is in storage on the other side of the world I can't comment on these.

The Digital Atlas also offers a few extras. There are a small number of outline maps of Java, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia, licensed so they can be modified and reworked (albeit with an "advertising" clause). And a nice inclusion are some scans from the 10th (1909) edition of W. van Gelder's Schoolatlas van Nederlandsch Ooost-Indiƫ.

How does the electronic presentation compare to print?

The Digital Atlas is formatted as a single html page for each chapter, with simple styling and static images, so it is cross-platform and straightforward to access. It is also easy to use, at least with a decent sized monitor, though this is not as pleasant an experience as browsing the printed atlas.

My one major complaint about the presentation is that getting to the full size versions of the maps requires two steps, going via an intermediate "map page" which repeats the small version of the map and offers "further reading" suggestions. Some kind of "one click" shortcut here would have been nice, perhaps even some cleverness with Javascript and popups.

How does the licensing work?

There is, thankfully, no use of encryption keys or digital rights management with the Digital Atlas, but the licensing is not as generous as I had hoped.

The conditions of use allow unlimited use of the maps in lectures and presentations, while up to four may be used in unpublished printed materials or teaching materials, and up to three in published works. The maps can't, however, be modified except by resizing, shifting to greyscale, and so forth.

That's helpful for academic use, but it's a far cry from being able to use these maps, or even parts of them, in Wikipedia. Less ambitiously, it doesn't seem that a single purchase by a school or library could be used on multiple computers without worrying about concurrency.

An opportunity missed?

The Digital Atlas is much cheaper than — around a third the price of — the printed atlas, making it more feasible for every school in Indonesia (or even the world) to acquire a copy. A fallback here is that it is freely available on the web, at, though without the large versions of the maps and with even the smaller versions heavily overmarked. (This is inaccurately described as "watermarking".) This doesn't show the Atlas in the best light, but the text alone is a valuable resource.

With the distribution possibilities of the Internet, the Digital Atlas of Indonesian History could be one of the first resources used by anyone, anywhere, studying Indonesian history. As it is, I'm not sure that it will reach that much broader an audience than the printed version. I can't help wondering whether release under (say) a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license might not raise the profile and use of the maps sufficiently that the revenue from commercial or derivative licensing would compensate for lost sales.

June 2011

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Related reviews:
- Robert Cribb - Historical Atlas of Indonesia
- Robert Cribb - Historical Dictionary of Indonesia
- Robert Cribb - End of Empire: 100 Days in 1945 that Changed Asia and the World
- Robert Cribb - The Indonesian Killings 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali
- books about Indonesia + Indonesian history
- more geography
%T Digital Atlas of Indonesian History
%A Cribb, Robert
%I NIAS Press
%D 2010
%O DVD, index
%G ISBN-13 9788791114663
%P 70pp