Map it out
Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Maps of Africa that will change your perspective

Maps are never quite as authoritative as they appear. For a while (two hundred years), Spanish cartographers thought California was an independent land mass.

In 1798 the famous English cartographer James Rennel sketched out, based on sightings by a few explorers and his own attempts to squint into the distance, the Mountains of Kong, which stretched across the west coast of Africa and around half the continent. Few thought it worth checking and it was only in 1890 that someone bothered to try and climb them. On arrival they discovered there were no mountains to climb.

1554 africa

They also often reveal more about the cartographer and current preconceptions than the territory covered.  In 1554, the first map accessible to the public and devoted to the African continent featured, for intrepid travellers no doubt, a one-eyed giant meant to represent the mythical tribe of the ‘Monoculi’. Look above, it’s relaxing on Nigeria and Cameroon.

Now maps are more likely to deal with modern preoccupations, namely poverty, digital connectivity and natural resources. These maps, compiled by the campaigning and advocacy organisation, ONE, sketch out data as varied as internet use, the risk of drought, economic wealth and population density.

Inevitably, maps that plot wireless connection or energy poverty will soon be as out-of-date as those featuring mythical monsters. But take a look. Their transience is part of their beauty.


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