John Bartholomew Jr (1831 – 1893), the head of Scottish mapmaking firm John Bartholomew & Son, prepared this map of Africa just prior to the European “Scramble for Africa,” in which European powers divided up “unclaimed” African lands amongst themselves. While European powers officially controlled less than 10% of Africa when this map was made, within twenty years, they had laid claim to nearly the entire continent. Bartholomew benefited from this expansion, as between 1880 and 1915, his company printed about 2.5 million maps depicting the African continent, some of which were prepared for the British Government, Imperial British East Africa Company, British South Africa Company, numerous missionary groups, and a variety of respected publishers. One such publisher was A&C Black, a prominent company that occupied the same office building in Edinburgh as Bartholomew & Son and featured many Bartholomew maps (including this one) in its popular guide books, atlases, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Production of the Map
Bartholomew prepared this map for the 1879 edition of the A&C Black publication, Black’s General Atlas of the World. This work included many Bartholomew maps of various locations, with introductory information about each continent. According to the firm’s records, Bartholomew did not create entirely new maps for Black’s atlas; rather, he revised some of his earlier works. The firm spent 37 pounds, 13 shillings, and 6 pence (today’s equivalent of around £3,000 or $4,500) on the revision process, which spanned 7 months. This map of Africa was revised on September 16th, 1878, and the entire revision process took place from March 15th 1878 to October 8th 1878.
What is on the Map?
This map of Africa contains many interesting visual features. It displays the travel routes of prominent European explorers, such as David Livingstone, John Speke, and Richard Burton, and contains multiple European place names, illustrating the creation of an image of Africa that was defined by European influence. The interior of Africa is shown with multiple blank spaces and no clear borders. This can be interpreted as a reflection of the limits of European cartographic knowledge about the region. In the context of European colonization, however, this feature also seems to send a message that this land is vacant, and thus free for the taking.
The Mountains of Kong are visible in the West African portion of Bartholomew’s map, just above the Grain and Ivory Coast. The Mountains of Kong were a mythical mountain range, purportedly abounding in gold. They were first depicted on the maps James Rennell made for explorer Mungo Park’s travel narrative, and were subsequently included on most 19th century maps of Africa. However, they have never been a geographic reality; no such mountain range exists. Their inclusion on this map is an error that highlights how maps are not objective or even scientific, but often stray from geographic truth and foster erroneous perceptions of space.
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