Resource Suggestions from the Experts
|Editors' note: We asked our essay contributors to share one of their favorite resources for teaching about Africa in the world history classroom. The result is a fascinating array of suggestions ranging from cartography to statuary and from film to texts. We hope you will find these ideas useful, and that you will share your own resources with readers through our "Letters to the Editors" feature.|
Creating Africa: A Brief
Tour of European Cartography of Africa
Swifts' poem regarding African maps is fairly well-known.
Students often will have heard it by the time they arrive in a world history
survey. A good number will even get the point that in order to fill
up regions of the "empty" African map, European cartographers would add
whimsical images of savages and wild animals. What is less well-known,
however, is that while Swift was fairly accurate in his description of English
map-making in the early 18th century, he offered a rather poor
account of the maps that had preceded those of his day. Indeed, during
the 16th and 17th centuries, European (often Italian
and Dutch) maps of Africa featured a remarkable amount of interior detail.
Certainly they were often lacking in what more modern cartographers might
consider absolute precision. But, they were often quite correct in
broad terms, such as in citing the existence of certain rivers and cities,
if not their exact courses and locations. More so, they clearly showed
that Europeans of the time (correctly) considered much of Africa to be,
like Europe, well populated with cities and kingdoms. Given that the
European experience with Africa was limited largely to the coastline prior
to the 19th century, it is clear that information regarding the
interior certainly came from African and Arabic sources, which the early
cartographers were willing to accept as accurate. Further, Africa
exerted something of a "sphere of influence" on maps during this early era
as well, with the "Ethiopian Ocean" being located off the continent's Western
coast, rather than the South Atlantic, as it would later be labeled.
Thus, what is remarkable about the maps of the 18th
and 19th centuries is that they gradually cease to include "indigenous"
information about the African interior, and increasingly leave regions blank
until they can be "discovered" by Europeans. Thus, for a while, the
outline of Africa became more sharply defined and the interior became less
so. This is something of a cartographic metaphor for Africa being
defined from the outside in, and also becoming a single "thing" rather than
a complex collection or regions and societies. Similarly, there is
a growing tendency in the maps in these later centuries to see Africa in
increasingly racial terms, labeling large swaths of the continent as "Negroland"—presaging
the notion of "Black Africa." The detail of earlier maps does not
really return until the apogee of colonial power in the 1920s and 1930s.
The list of maps below represent a chronological
sequence of on-line historical maps. They are presented with the goal of
getting students to investigate and critically access the cartographic "creation"
of the continent of Africa as we have come to understand it.
In using such resources in my own classes, I have encouraged students to
see how the understanding of Africa (in European eyes) has changed over
the centuries. These maps can either be presented by an instructor
as a "guided tour," or, if time and computer resources allow, the students
can be allowed to examine them on their own. Many offer "zoom" functions
that allow them to be examined in remarkable detail. However utilized,
they provide us with information about both Africa and Europe during the
period from the 15th through the 20th centuries
which is how world history should work in the first place. Further,
these maps offer students an opportunity to learn a bit about the history
of cartography, while also highlighting the incredible richness of the map
resources available on the Internet. A few notes accompany each map,
pointing out what I, at least, think is interesting or notable about each.
No doubt, energetic instructors and students will come up with additional
information and commentary.
A prime example of the medieval style of world maps. It is East-oriented
(which is where the term "oriented" comes from in the first place), with
Jerusalem at the center of the world. Students should be encouraged
to note that Africa is presented as neither separate from nor isolated
from other regions. Rather, Africa, along with "Europe," doesn't
even really exist on this map there is just the world surrounding Jerusalem
This map is interesting in that the cartographer had clearly not had
access to, or digested the information produced by, Portuguese voyages
along Africa's west coast. Perhaps Berlingheri was not yet willing
to break with Ptolemy, whose ancient maps seem to have deeply influenced
this one. It is also useful to point out that "Africa" is generally
labeled as "Ethiopia" and "Libya" "Aphrica" is just a region along the
north coast. Indeed, "Africa" was not to come into consistent use
as a name for the continent until nearly a century later.
This is a beautifully rendered (and south-oriented) map of Northern and
Western Africa. Though the interior is rather lacking in information,
the coast is well detailed. Most interesting are the representations
of cities and people exactly the things that Swift later would say were
missing. Indeed, while Nicholas Vallard and the other creators of this
atlas clearly didn't know much about the interior of Africa, they nonetheless
saw the people living there as doing so much like people elsewhere.
Most of the images represent trade, urbanization, and political authority.
However, careful observers will note two fanciful creatures giving each
other what appears to be a high-five in the center-left of the image.
This is another very nice south-oriented map. However, it is different
in that it shows considerable interior detail. Given the lack of
European experience beyond the coastlines, most of this information could
only have come from African sources and from Islamic geographers (many
of whom were, after all, also African).
Much like Ramusio-Gastaldi, this map provides a great deal of interior
detail. It is also interesting in its identification of the "Oceanvs
Ethio" (Ethiopian Ocean) instead of the "South Atlantic" or "Atlantic."
Mercator is of course famous as a cartographer, so it is useful to show
his early representation of Africa. The map is similar to the previous
two maps in many ways, but is notable for its use of "Africa" as a signifier,
and also for its frequent references to "regnum/regio" Latin terms identifying
the presence of kingdoms.
This is yet another example of the highly detailed maps of the 17th
century. It is based upon earlier work by Janssonius (1623), and
was later reproduced in the "Grand Atlas" by Joan Blaeu (1663-1665).
It features, once again, the "Oceanus Aethiopicus" and is bordered with
representations of not-particularly-outlandish Africans (save the two
folks eating snakes in the bottom right corner).
This is a detail of southwestern Africa from a larger map. The
section shows both a detailed coastline and interior. It once again
features the "Oceanus Aethiopi." The area around the title presents
what are perhaps romanticized, but certainly not barbaric, African representatives.
Here we see a fairly sharp break from the previous maps, with considerably
less information provided for the interior. This map also represents
an early characterization of part of the continent as "Negroland," and
an early identification of the nearby ocean at the Atlantic. It
may be worthwhile to point out to students the map's emphasis on European
"ownership" in that it identifies "what belongs to England, Holland, Denmark,
etc." The fact that the slave trade was beginning to dominate European
economic ties to Africa around this time might also be noted.
Like the Holl map above, this map is useful in that it reflects the growing
precision of the exterior outline of Africa, but a decreasing degree of
interior detail. "Negroland" and the Atlantic are, again, important components
of the map.
This map, from an American geography text,
is remarkable in the general absence of interior detail for the continent.
Apparently, there was, by this time, little to be taught (if not known)
about the African interior.
This map, produced for the "British Association for the Discovery of
the Interior Parts of Africa" is interesting precisely for its imbalanced
detail. Some areas are completely blank, and others, where European
"explorers" have previously been active, are highly detailed. This
is a fairly overt representation of Africa as a "Tabula Rasa"—a blank
page awaiting the imprint of first-hand European experience.
|References and Additional Useful Resources:|
Afriterra: The Cartographic Free Library. http://www.afriterra.org/
American Museum of Natural History, Congo Expedition Map Gallery.
University of California, Berkeley, Digital Scriptorium. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/scriptorium/search/methods.html
Harris, Nathaniel. Mapping the World: Maps and their History (Thunder Bay Press, 2002)
Images of Early Maps on the Web: 5. Africa. http://www.maphistory.info/imageafrica.html
Norwich, I, and Jeffrey Stone. Norwich's Maps of Africa: An Annotated and Illustrated Carto-Bibliography (Terra Nova Press, 1997).
Short, John Rennie. The World Through Maps: A History of Cartography (Firefly Books, Ltd., 2003).
University of Florida Map and Image Library: Africa. http://web.uflib.ufl.edu/maps/MAPAFRICA.HTML
Yale Map Collection: Africa. http://www.library.yale.edu/MapColl/africa.html
My favorite way of showing students that the Swahili
were participants in a larger Indian Ocean world is to tell them about the
Shanga lion. The Shanga lion is a small bronze statue of a lion that was
found during Mark Horton's excavation of the Swahili town of Shanga.
It dates from roughly 1100; a time when the Swahili city states were growing
rapidly and Indian Ocean trade was booming. Nothing similar has ever
been found in East Africa, but lions of similar size and appearance have
been found in India where they were used in Hindu religious ritual.
One possible explanation for the lion's presence in Shanga is that it belonged
to Indian merchants who came there to trade, or that it was an imported
piece used for non-religious decorative purposes by Swahili elites.
However, other qualities of the lion suggest that it also had local roots.
While the statue is stylistically Indian, the lion it depicts is an African
lion rather than an Asian lion. So whoever made the statue had seen
both Indian statuettes of lions as well as African lions. Equally
intriguing is that the copper used to make the bronze from which the statue
was cast seems to derive from melted Chinese coins. The presence of
this statute, which Horton says is neither African nor Indian but "Indian
Ocean," is vivid evidence of the types of cross-cultural encounters that
were occurring in the Swahili towns of the 12th century.
For more on the Shanga lion see M.C. Horton and
T.R. Blurton, " 'Indian' metalwork in East Africa: the bronze statuette
from Shanga," Antiquity 62 (1988): 22. There is also a treatment
of the Shanga lion in Erik Gilbert and Jonathan Reynolds, Africa in World
History (Prentice Hall, 2003), page 106. There is a photo of the
lion in Mark Horton, Helen Brown, and Nina Mudidia, Shanga: the Archeology
of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Africa (British Institute
in East Africa, 1996), but the statue is not particularly photogenic or
visually interesting, and the book is expensive and not widely available.
Connecting Africa to the
World: Donald Wright's The World and a Very Small Place in Africa
One of the best and most widely adopted books for
teaching about Africa in the context of world history is Donald R. Wright,
The World and a Very Small Place in Africa: A History of Globalization
in Niumi, The Gambia (2nd ed, M.E. Sharpe, 2004). Through focusing
on the small state of Niumi at the mouth of the Gambia River, beginning
with the first direct contact with the Portuguese in 1446 CE and continuing
to the present, Wright combines a detailed local history with that of the
evolving intercommunicating world. By doing so, this study enables
its readers to understand the changes that a growing involvement with the
world economy introduced into the lives of real people at a very local level.
In the words of one reviewer, it has developed a reputation as "the
best book on Africa."
"Traditional" versus "Modern"
Africa: Film as a Resource in Teaching about Africa
|One key lesson that I find is typically difficult for students to grasp are the distinctions between "traditional" and "modern" Africa, village life and urban struggles. I like to use the film La Vie est Belle (Life is Rosy), available from California Newsreel's Library of African Cinema. Its opening scene shows a young villager escaping to the city to pursue a dream of becoming a musician. Many scenes juxtapose ideas about modernity and traditional beliefs from an African perspective. This film's content may be too mature for some high school audiences, but selected scenes may be used to open discussion on a changing Africa. Its world beat music is captivating. California Newsreel has lots of great films by African filmmakers—the continent's modern "griots"—and they provide windows on both contemporary and historical Africa.||9|
|Robert Edgar's An African American in South Africa: The Travel Notes of Ralph J. Bunche (Ohio University Press, 1992) is an excellent teaching resource based on the incisive 1937 travelogue of Bunche, the first African American Nobel Peace Prize winner (1950). The book is valuable for its comparison of racial segregation and black politics in South Africa and America, and for its intimate first-person account of a society moving tragically toward apartheid. It also provides critical insights into the nature of African societies in the colonial era, and reminds us of the Marxist analysis of colonialism, capitalism and racism that posed a serious challenge to Western systems of political governance and the economic and racial orthodoxies of this time. Bunche's status as a visiting African American in South Africa also makes this travelogue a complementary companion to Alexis de Tocqueville's famous Democracy in America. Finally, the book is a wonderful introduction to the trenchant political thought, social sophistication and wry sense of humor of Bunche, a largely forgotten, but important figure in American history.||10|
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