Exploring Africa

Map of Africa

Wilhelm Blaeu's 1617 map of Africa

An Exhibit of Maps and Travel Narratives

originally displayed February-April 1997
Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina

based on an exhibit by Patrick Scott
hypertext by Jason A. Pierce

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5 | References

Introduction
 

This exhibit puts on display one of the hidden resources of Thomas Cooper Library's Special Collections, a selection from the many books of travel and exploration purchased for the original South Carolina College Library in the early and middle nineteenth century. The exhibition illustrates most of the major phases in the European exploration of Africa, from the late fifteenth century to the late nineteenth century.

The exhibition begins with a series of very beautiful Renaissance maps, showing the tracing of the African coastline in the late fifteenth century, by Portuguese seamen, and with the widely-translated early account of West Africa by the Arab scholar Leo Africanus. Included here are the magnificent facsimile of a fifteenth-century manuscript Ptolemy, purchased in 1983 from the John Shaw Billings Endowment, and Wilhelm Blaeu's famous map of Africa (1617). Also from the Renaissance is another Dutch engraver Theodor de Bry's 1598 map from his famous Voyages, kindly loaned for this exhibit by James P. Barrow, '62.

But the heart of the exhibit lies with the many early editions of the great names in the European exploration of the African interior—James Bruce, Mungo Park, Burckhardt, Clapperton, Laing, Caillie, Lander, and others. With many different motivations—adventure, fame, scientific curiosity, the hope of new wealth or trading opportunities, missionary ardor and anti-slavery zeal—the European explorers of Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth century nonetheless form an extraordinary succession of individual bravery and visionary commitment. Many of the books and maps in which they recorded their quest remain both essential historical sources for African history and very beautiful examples of contemporary book production and engraving. Some items, alas, after long years originally on the open shelves of a college library, have been damaged or inappropriately repaired and now need professional conservation, but many are, at least internally, still pristine.

The last part of the exhibit, concerning Livingstone and Stanley, adds to the library's original collections some illustrated early editions recently donated by Dr. D. Strother Pope, along with his extensive collection of modern books on Africa, and includes brief reference to the literary legacy of African exploration in Joseph Conrad and Chinua Achebe.

This exhibit covers a very wide range of materials and a broad historical span, and its preparation has correspondingly relied on help and advice from outside the department's staff. The planning of the exhibit, and review of available materials, was helped by Prof. Ronald Atkinson, of the Department of History, and Prof. Allen Bushong, of the Department of Geography, who also assisted with some of the reference literature in historical cartography. The department is grateful also for the interest in the exhibit shown by colleagues in African Studies and African-American Studies. Roger Mortimer helped identify early maps of Africa in Special Collections. David McQuillan and Ross Taylor of the Map Library made available older maps from their holdings. Paul Schultz assisted in the mounting of the exhibit.

 

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5 | References

Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections