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Map Gallery

"So Geographers in Afric-maps,
With Savage-Pictures fill their gaps;
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place Elephants for want of towns."

Johnathan Swift, ON POETRY: A RHAPSODY

Dublin, 1733

The maps in this gallery reflect the development of European knowledge of African geography from 1562 through 1940. They are reproduced with the permission of the New York Public Library and the British Library. These maps are displayed using the tilepic software available from University of California, Berkeley Digital Library Project.

Lang-Chapin Expedition

C0232-01

1562

C0232-02

1613

C0232-03

1632

C0231-01

1660

C0231-02

1660

C0230-08

1660

C0232-04

1666

C0232-06

[1700]

C0234-04

[1715]

C0232-05

1720

C0233-01

[1720]

C0233-02

1722

C0231-03

1729

C0236-01

1729

C0234-03

[1740]

C0233-03

1747

C0233-04

1756

C0348-02

1767

C0347-01

[1770]

C0234-01

1775

C0234-02

1794

NYPL Zaire 1-2

1885

C0235-02

1890

C0347-02

1895

NYPL Zaire 3

1895

C0235-03

1896

NYPL Zaire 4

1907

C0235-01

1915

C0236-02

1940

C0303-01

date unknown

C0345-46

date unknown

C0346-02z

date unknown

   

Early African Cartography

The earliest African maps may be the petroglyphs found in the Sahara Desert and southern Africa. The first printed representations of northern Africa, drawn by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century AD, dominated European ideas about African geography until Portuguese explorers redrew the continent's coastal profile during the Renaissance. The first complete coastal depiction of the continent was made after Portuguese seamen rounded Africa's southern tip in the fifteenth century. If the Chinese had continued their maritime explorations of Africa, they may have rounded the Cape of Good Hope before the Portuguese, though coming from the opposite direction. Chinese charts of the East Coast were well developed by the time of China's premiere military leader and explorer Cheng Ho died in the 1430s. Cheng Ho's death marked the end of China's mapping and maritime expeditions in Africa. Two hundred years later, as Europeans penetrated Africa in search of resources and scientific data, detailed cartographic descriptions of Africa's interior began to fill in. But many fundamental questions about the continent's interior, such as the location of the Congo River's headwaters, were not solved until the late nineteenth century.