Images from our collection of antique maps of Africa are available on the Maps and Imagery Library website. Some examples of modern maps of Africa are also available there. UF Libraries provides campus users with licensed access to many digital collections of rare books (including early atlases) that contain map and geography information worth considering for research in this area. EEBO or Early English Books Online is just one example with a great deal of good texts, though map image quality is not always the best.
Many libraries with large academic collections relating to Africa also have important map collections with images available online. An example is the Oxford Digital Library (search: "Africa Maps Early works to 1800"). Afriterra, a private foundation, also offers African maps online for educational use as its primary mission.
An important monograph that highlights indigenous African traditions of mapping is "Cartography in prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Europe and the Mediterranean" (v. 1 in the multi-volume edited set, The History of cartography, edited by J.B. Harley and David Woodward (a series from the University of Chicago Press).
The history of cartography in Europe is often presented as a linear progression from simple, general, and distorted (though charming and decorative) early maps to increasingly complex, detailed and accurate modern ones (based on advances in science and expanding exploration around the globe). A simple model of linear progress cannot provide a framework capable of organizing the many important aspects of the history of cartography. Rather, a broader and more integrated approach is needed to incorporate the many advances and setbacks, the various approaches of the different intellectual schools, their alliances and rivalries, and the discoveries and technical advances as well as the tenacity of certain ideas handed down through the ages and accepted on authority.
The history of western mapping and cartography is interwoven with many important themes and trends: the history of navigation and exploration, economic development and the expansion of European mercantile interests, the encounter with non-western peoples (and the subsequent re-introduction of classical traditions into the west), the rivalries of competing European interests, the relationship of scholars and elites within and among nation states, the development of printing, the increasing need for control over the newly encountered territories from the contact period through colonialism, along with the technology of integrating text and graphics in printed works, the economics of commercial publishing, and so many more topics that one way or another impact upon this story.
Herodotus (c. 484-425 BC) is considered the first known historian of the western world. He reported (quite skeptically) the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa (Waterfield 1998, 4:42). He also documented a scribe's account of the sources of the Nile, which was accepted until the late 19th century: "The account of Herodotus, based on a story told him by a scribe, that the Nile had its source between the two conical peaks of Crophi and Mophi and flowed in two channels to the north and south had considerable influence on future geographers. It accounted for the undue prolongation of the Nile to the south and for the erroneous ascription of the same source to the Nile and the Zambezi" (Lane-Poole 1950:3). The tenacity of this account is truly astounding, as evidenced by the fact that David Livingstone "was still pursuing the Herodotan myth" in the middle of the 19th c. (Lane-Poole 1950:3).
History of European exploration of Africa. Coast vs. interior. Chronology.
In "Deconstructing the map" Harley (1992) provides a useful context for considering maps very broadly as cultural artifacts: they are cultural productions first and foremost, and as such they present (and therefore can misrepresent) social realities. The use of metaphor and rhetoric in the presentation of the landscape is common, even in "scientific mapping", and is not simply to be found in the decorative elements of popular maps.
Cartouches, legends, scales, vignettes, sidebars, and textual elements of maps can provide important material for analysis, and can be considered integral to the presentation of its contents (see Clarke 1988, for a consideration of the iconography of North American maps before and after US independence from Great Britain). Cultural information is sometimes communicated (or masked) in more subtle ways, however. Consider, for example, the case of a map in which all religious buildings are depicted with the same symbol (often a cross). In some cases the masking of diversity, sectarian strife, or other important cultural information in this way can be seriously misleading; imagine this is a map of Israel, Ireland, or South Africa. The simple choice of such symbols can convey or gloss over important features of the cultural landscape. Another interesting example is the choice of place names employed, especially in the colonial setting. Or consider the difference between using a generic label for a federal facility versus a specification that this particular property is a nuclear waste storage site. Finally, simply the labeling of government or institutional buildings at all while private establishments are left unnamed can have an effect of how the map reader interprets the social setting (see Monmonier 1991).
The relationship of mapping and cosmology (the "mapping" of spiritual systems of thought onto physical space) was historically close in Europe and frequently remains culturally close in other traditions. Most early European maps belonged more to a cosmological tradition than they did to any effort to transmit geographical knowledge as science (Macrobian maps are the exception--note that many of these images include extensive accompanying texts). Medieval "T-O" and "Y-O" maps represent the continuation of a simplified cosmological mapping tradition originating in the Ionian philosophy of the 5th c. BC. It is interesting how Asia dominates over the smaller and essentially equal continents of Europe and Africa in these depictions. These traditions diversified greatly as round manuscript mappae-mundi in Europe (see Brotton 1998:28, and note that many more manuscript and printed examples with explanatory texts from a variety of time periods are available: see the Index of Cartographic Images Illustrating Maps of the Early Medieval Period 400-1300 A.D.).
Claudius Ptolemy (c. 127-151 AD) was the official astronomer and geographer of the city of Alexandria. He had access to the vast resources of the library there, whose policy it reportedly was to copy any maps in the possession of traders and merchants passing through this important port (keeping the original and returning the copy). His eight volume Geography was a standard text for Arab geographers, though it (and the Greek traditions of scientific geography it transmitted) were largely lost to Europe until the late 14th-early 15th c. It is through Ptolemy that the "scientific" tradition of geography and mapping was reintroduced into Europe during the Renaissance via Arabic sources. Manuscript copies of Ptolemy became cherished as valuable in themselves, for their practical utility in trade, and also as symbolic of broad knowledge and great wealth. Brotton (1998) uses the Bernard van Orley tapestries (The Spheres, c. 1520-1530) as an example of the new attitude towards maps and the world. They were created in celebration of the wedding of Catherine of Austria and Jo˜o of Portugal, depicting the two monarchs as gods, overlooking their expansive combined empires.
African indigenous mapping was previously believed to be entirely non-existent or derivative of other traditions (Adler 1910). Recent work places African traditions in light of a better understanding of the context of early European and other world regions' map making traditions (Bassett 1998; Maggs 1998; Woodward and Lewis 1992, 1998). The earliest African maps may be the petroglyphs found in the Sahara as well as in southern Africa. Some of the southern African examples appear to be cosmological, while others appear to depict kraals (livestock corrals). Although none of these petroglyphs has ever been linked to a particular kraal, there is a documented case of children playing at trading livestock with large and small pebbles representing cattle and goats being moved from one kraal to another (Maggs 1998).
Bassett (1998) provides the examples of a wide variety of indigenous African mapping traditions: Ethiopian maps, various mnemonic maps (including Tabwa scarification patterns and Luba lukasa boards) used in initiation ceremonies and in the ritual retelling of history, and documents at least a dozen cases where "ground maps" were drawn by Africans (e.g. using a stick in the sand) in response to European explorers' solicitations for directions. In some cases these provided indications of relative distances, village sizes, and scale, and a number of explorers remarked on their surprising accuracy. Effective communication across cultures through such techniques seems deceptively obvious, but on reflection rests upon a set of assumptions for both map maker and reader that are obvious or seem to be innate.
Looking back on the history of European exploring, mapping, and conquering Africa from this perspective, the differences between African and European traditions are more often than not emphasized. But seen in the light of this comparison between early European mapping traditions and the ways in which Africans developed their own maps and participated in the European mapping of their own continent, the similarities and common points are more markedly highlighted. This is a good place to begin looking at how the European mapping of Africa proceeded from the fifteenth century onwards.
As Harley (1992) points out, the history of European mapmaking from that time to the present is not simply the development of a single line of increased detail, scientific accuracy and the elimination of errors. A more nuanced approach yields a richness of detail and a better understanding of the historical proceesses at work.
Adler, Bruno F. 1910.
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"Taking possession: The cartouche as cultural text in eighteenth-century American maps." Word & Image 4(2):455-474.
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"The discovery of Africa; a history of the exploration of Africa as reflected in the maps in the collection of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum." (The Occasional papers of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum, new ser., no.7). Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia: Rhodes-Livingstone Museum. Library West: GN657 .R4 R561 1974 and Map library: DT3 .L33x
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Old maps and globes: with a list of cartographers, engravers, publishers and printers concerned with printed maps and globes from c. 1500 to c. 1850. Rev. ed. London: Bell & Hyman. Map library, Reference: GA205 .L52 1979
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"Cartographic content of rock art in Southern Africa." In Woodward and Lewis. Cartography in the traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific societies.
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Maps and mapping of Africa: A resource guide. London: Hans Zell. Map library, Reference: GA1341 .M551 1997
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How to lie with maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Map library, Reference: G108.7 .M66 1991
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Facsimile-atlas to the early history of cartography with reproductions of the most important maps printed in the XV and XVI centuries. Translated from the Swedish original by Johan Adolf Ekelof and Clements R. Markham. New York: Dover Publications. Map library, Atlases: G1025 .N72 1973
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Norwich's maps of Africa: An illustrated and annotated carto-bibliography. Bibliographical descriptions by Pam Kolbe. 2nd ed. rev. and edited by Jeffrey C. Stone. Norwich, VT: Terra Nova Press. Library West, Reference and Map Library: GA 1341 .N671 1997
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----- and -----. 1998.
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