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Mapping Africa and Asia

How were maps of Africa and Asia produced in 19th-century Europe? What knowledge contributed to their development? Which factors affected their design and structure? How did concepts of globality and territoriality inform map designs?  And what role did colonial imaginaries and fictions play in the process? Was a ‘European’ or even ‘German’ gaze inscribed into map designs?

This blog tackles these questions and more by presenting extraordinary finds and findings of the project Cartographies of Africa and Asia (1800–1945). A Project for the Digitization of Maps of the Perthes Collection Gotha. Situated at the University of Erfurt and administered by the Centre for Transcultural Studies / Perthes Collection and Gotha Research Library, we are concerned with the digitization of historic African and Asian maps included in the Perthes collection, ranging from 1800 to 1945. The project is featured in the eHeritage funding program of the BMBF for two years.

The aim is to introduce the vast array of some 35,000 objects to the international scientific community and to stimulate research related to the extraordinary collection situated in this residential town in Thuringia. The Justus Perthes publishing house, whose surviving archives comprise the Perthes collection held by Erfurt University, was one of the world’s leading cartographic publishers in the 19th century and beyond. All digitized items will be published via Digitale Historische Bibliothek Erfurt/Gotha (DHB, digital historical library).

The digitization effort includes maps of the African and Asian continents and individual Asian or African regions, which were produced in Gotha by the Justus Perthes publishing house itself. Also included are maps, which the company bought and collected, often to serve as source material for their own products. This notoriously busy publishing house was responsible not only for the production of maps but also for maintaining a closely-knit network, consisting of researchers, explorers, and scientific geographical societies (among others). Its periodical Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen quickly became the most trusted outlet of geographic and cartographic news in 19th and early 20th century Germany.

The Perthes Collection provides rare insight into the design processes and networks that contributed to the finalized versions of maps. It caters to scholars of fields as varied as Global History, Colonial and Imperial History, History of Science, History of Geography and Cartography as well as Area Studies, Didactics of History and Geography. Handwritten sketches and manuscript maps are preserved in the collection as well as notebooks and correspondence by the explorers themselves, commenting on map designs and giving corrections.

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