Have Theodolite, Will Travel: Mapping Africa’s Magnificent Landscape
Combining fine art, scientific rigour and political controversy, 19th-century map making was a formidable and often contentious task. British military map makers were well-occupied, and not merely on the home front. For 60 years they produced maps to support the development of Britain’s overseas territories.
Originally part of the War Office Archive, these maps are now in the custodianship of the British Library. With generous assistance from the Indigo Trust they are presently being conserved, catalogued and digitised for free public access online.
These are not run-of-the-mill maps. As exquisite as they are, and in some cases politically controversial, many of the maps are unique works of art unrepresented in other collections. They include original field sheets and fair drawings, intricately portrayed in pen, coloured inks and watercolour. These painstakingly compiled maps record an often contentious chronicle of imperial expansion for the purposes of government, settlement, and commercial gain.
Not always intended for publication, some of the maps lack supporting explanation. Correct identification can thus provide a stiff test for Library staff. In this talk, map cataloguer Nick Krebs will reveal the fascinating stories behind the mapping of 19th century East Africa. Research has laid open the personalities of the map-makers and the challenges they faced – from climate, terrain, isolation, disease and predators big and small – while simultaneously uncovering some of the controversies fashioned by their political masters.
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