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Hiribarren Vincent, Seignobos Robin (éd.), 2011, Cartographier l’Afrique. Construction, transmission et circulation des savoirs géographiques du Moyen Âge au XIXe siècle

Cartes et Géomatique n° 210 (déc. 2011), Paris, Comité français de cartographie
Thomas J. Bassett
p. 317-319
Référence(s) :

Hiribarren Vincent, Seignobos Robin (éd.), 2011, Cartographier l’Afrique. Construction, transmission et circulation des savoirs géographiques du Moyen Âge au XIXe siècle, Cartes et Géomatique n° 210 (déc. 2011), Paris, Comité français de cartographie, 198 p.

Texte intégral

1The history of the cartography of Africa is seriously understudied, so this collection of essays is a welcome and overdue addition to the literature. In their introduction to this special issue of Cartes & Géomatique, editors Robin Seignobos and Vincent Hiribarren state that their goal is to highlight some of the main historical and theoretical challenges in the field. By examining the sources, actors, processes, and contexts of mapmaking, this volume advances understanding of the cultural, historical, and political dimensions of the cartography of Africa.

2The collection is divided into two chronological parts: seven articles examine maps dating from the Medieval and modern periods; six essays focus on the mapping of Africa during the 19th century. Most of contributions are illustrated with colored maps that are clear and easy to read. However, the captions are uniformly too brief. The maps would be more useful if the captions drew the reader’s attention to specific map elements under discussion. This is particularly true for the essays focused on Medieval maps, which were often dense and written for a specialist audience.

3Individually and as a whole the thirteen essays that make up this volume emphasize the propositional nature of maps in which mapmakers portray Africa and Africans in diverse and sometimes contradictory ways. Three themes unify this historical cartographic diversity: the non-linear nature of cartographic knowledge and representation; the politics of mapmaking; and the propositional nature of all maps.

4The discussions of Medieval and modern era maps underscore the co- existence of different models (Ptolemaic, Latin, Arabic), sometimes in the same map. As Emmanuelle Vagnon demonstrates with reference to representations of the Indian Ocean, some mapmakers influenced by Ptolemy presented the Indian Ocean as an inland sea. Others, following Latin and certain Arabic sources (e.g. al-Idrîsî), showed the Indian Ocean to be open and connected to the Atlantic. One of Vagnon’s main points is that there was a debate taking place in map form during the 14th and 15th centuries about the extent of the Indian Ocean. Thus, rather than viewing the Portuguese voyages of discovery as a “rupture” in geographical knowledge marking the Medieval and modern eras, Vagnon sees the new Portuguese maps as confirming earlier representations. Vagnon’s view of maps as a sort of bricolage savant is echoed in the contribution of Robin Seignobos who analyses the representation of Nubia in the maps of Waldesmüller, Gastaldi, and Mercator. The blending of different sources (Catalan nautical charts, Leo Africanus, Potelmy, Solin) in these maps highlights the synthetic and non- linear quality of map making.

5Lucille Haguet’s essay on the variety of blank spaces on 18th century maps of Egypt further disrupts the notion of an “epistemological break” between Medieval and modern map making. Blank spaces are typically associated with the “scientific cartography” promoted by 18th century cartographers like Jean- Baptiste Bourguignon D’Anville. In contrast, Haguet highlights their common use prior to the 18th century where they worked as a negative space to direct attention to what the mapmaker wanted to show (e.g. coastlines, strategic points, interior waterways) or simply to reduce the costs of map making. They were also used like other map elements (notices, lists of place names with unknown locations) to indicate uncertainty. They were not simply invented by 18th century cartographers in the interests of greater accuracy. In short, blank spaces held multiple meanings for map makers and readers, which underscores the polysemic nature of maps.

6A second theme that ties the collection together centers on the politics of mapmaking. This thread is particularly visible in the essays focused on the 19th century. In her essay on missionary maps of 19th century Lesotho, Wendy N’guia Khama notes the infl of ordinary Africans on the maps produced by missionaries associated with the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris. The contents of these maps refl the perspectives of African informants on whom missionaries depended for geographical information important to their proselytizing. By inscribing African place names and the boundaries of local chiefdoms on maps, missionary maps legitimated African claims to territory. This practice contrasted with European imperial maps, which typically erased the presence of Africans.

7Norman Etherington describes Robert Moffat, Jr.’s “Map of South Eastern Africa, 1848-1851” as being “suffused with politics.” Made at the time when Great Britain annexed the Orange River Sovereignty, African ethnic names and towns fill the map in contrast to Boer locations, which receive comparatively little emphasis. The son of a well-known missionary associated with the London Missionary Society, Robert Moffat, Jr. grew up speaking Sotho. When making his map he spoke directly with local groups about shifting political boundaries and land ownership patterns. Etherington notes how Moffat used large font sizes to indicate the presence of African groups and their treaty-backed territorial claims. This politics of land ownership and group identity dramatically changed when the British ceded the Orange River Sovereignty to the Boers in 1852-54. Etherington compares Moffat’s map with Henry Hall’s 1857 map of South Africa under Boer rule in which African rights to land were abolished in the newly formed Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. He shows how the cultural geographical prominence of Africans in Moffat’s map is reduced to “typographical insignificance” in Hall’s map.

  • 1 Denis Wood and John Fels. 2008. The Nature of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of the Natural World(...)

8The third unifying theme of the collection centers on the notion that all maps are propositional1. Claudius Ptolemy stated in the 2nd century that the Nile River had its origins in the Mountains of the Moon, a cartographic proposition that map makers copied well into the 19th century until new authorities (John Speke and the Royal Geographic Society) proposed Lake Victoria as the source. Wulif Bodenstein describes how the German mapmaker Hermann Habenicht proposed through lines and color that a portion of Mauritania belonged to Spain. France’s objections to this representation compelled Habenicht to redraw this area in subsequent editions to France’s favor. Benoît Beucher describes how French mapmakers’ depiction of the Tenkodogo region of Upper Volta as being under the control of the Naba of Ouagadougou led British authorities to contest this claim because of their own territorial desires in that region.

9The case of King Njoya mapping his own Kingdom of Bamum, as discussed by Alexandra Loumpet-Galitzine, is a fitting closure to the volume. Njoya’s surveyors constructed a map of Bamum, which the king presented to British and then French colonial authorities to demonstrate his territorial authority. The king was ultimately sent into exile and his map displayed in a colonial-era exhibit as a “trophy” of the dominant power. Indeed, one of the take home messages of this collection is that maps are mutable; they emerge in a process that engages mapmakers and map readers in contexts that are forever changing, and in which there are winners and losers.

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Notes

1 Denis Wood and John Fels. 2008. The Nature of Maps: Cartographic Constructions of the Natural World. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

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Référence papier

Thomas J. Bassett, « Hiribarren Vincent, Seignobos Robin (éd.), 2011, Cartographier l’Afrique. Construction, transmission et circulation des savoirs géographiques du Moyen Âge au XIXe siècle », Journal des africanistes, 84-2 | 2014, 317-319.

Référence électronique

Thomas J. Bassett, « Hiribarren Vincent, Seignobos Robin (éd.), 2011, Cartographier l’Afrique. Construction, transmission et circulation des savoirs géographiques du Moyen Âge au XIXe siècle », Journal des africanistes [En ligne], 84-2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 14 janvier 2016, consulté le 23 septembre 2017. URL : http://africanistes.revues.org/4051

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