Ruderman Conference (2021): Panel with Tom Bassett, Julie MacArthur, and And ré Reyes Novaes

David Rumsey Map Center – Dec 13, 2021

Panel from the 3rd Biannual Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography
Panel 2: Historical approaches, 19th – 20th centuries

Tom Bassett, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Drawing the line: The interplay of African and European mapping practices in Binger’s Carte du Haut-Niger au Golfe de Guinée par le Pays de Kong et le Mossi (1:1,000,000)

This paper illustrates the intertwined nature of European and African mapping practices in the construction of Captain Louis-Gustave Binger’s 1890 Carte du Haut-Niger au Golfe de Guinée par le Pays de Kong et le Mossi (1:1,000,000). Most of the geographical information contained in this map, especially routes and place names, derives from African sources, not from firsthand observations by Binger or other Europeans. Binger collected this secondhand information, which he called itinéraires par renseignements, from Africans, who conveyed their geographic knowledge to him through a variety of mapping practices. Both Binger and the Africans he encountered, especially traders and pilgrims, were faced with the same geographical problem—how to get from Point A to Point B.  “Drawing the line” refers to these shared mapping practices but also to the limits placed by African authorities on French imperial advances into the Niger Bend. These political tensions stand out in Binger’s map. Some regions where he was able to collect itineraries are covered with dense route networks, while other areas where African leaders refused his passage are filled with blank spaces. The paper concludes that Binger’s map, as well other 19th century European maps of Africa, should be viewed as co-constructions to which Africans made major contributions.

Thomas Bassett writes on the political ecology of agrarian change in West Africa and the history of cartography of Africa. He is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography & GIS and former Director of the LAS Global Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His writings on the history of cartography focus on Indigenous mapping, administrative mapping, road mapping, and mapping and land privatization in Africa. He has contributed to three volumes of the History of Cartography and is currently working on a book on the role of mapping in France’s colonial conquest of 19th century West Africa.

Julie MacArthur, University of Toronto Mississauga
Paper: “Mobile spaces: Indigenous mapping and the conquest of Eastern Africa”

André Reyes Novaes, Rio de Janeiro State University
Paper: “Indigenous maps in the historiography of Brazilian explorations”

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