Perthes and Heinrich Barth: Publishing (as) a German Success Story – Part II

One of the most important legacies of August Petermann was undoubtedly his founding and editorship of the Mittheilungen aus Justus Perthes’ Geographischer Anstalt (later Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen, or PGM) in 1855, a scientific and cartographical journal that was widely received by expert communities as well as by an interested general public. Given its wide distribution and general acclaim, the journal shaped international geographic and cartographic discourse (Wardenga 2008). In many ways, the journal reflected since its inception much of the Zeitgeist with its focus on exploration, mapping and a positivist understanding of scientific progress. Its format followed a simple, but innovative formula: the news reported should be accompanied by the newest maps to depict the relevant changes to prior knowledge.

While the journal had an important scientific impact, it is vital to remember that the publication was not just a scholarly outlet but also a commercial endeavour (Sievers 2021: 205). Generating revenue, building a sympathetic readership, acquiring new authors, and selling the publications of the Perthes publishing house were also aims of the journal. These were pursued in a variety of ways, which will be the focus of the following analysis. Petermann himself, and the Perthes Publishing House under his aegis, was known by his contemporaries for his extraordinary cartographic talent as well as his business acumen, even though the latter quality made him for some, most notably Heinrich Barth, a sometimes controversial figure (Marx 2021: 264). But with Petermann’s commercial expertise, the Perthes Publishing House was able to fund projects and engage in the organisation and management of expeditions and research trips itself.

A title page to an article in a journal. It's written in German and illustrated with a (sparsly) coloured map.

Title page of an article in PGM, which provides an outline for Barth’s coming travel report (PGM 1855: 307).

One of the first and perhaps most influential contributors to the newly found journal was Heinrich Barth. While the already published part of this article focuses on how Petermann’s connections got Heinrich Barth to join the British expedition to Bornu, we will now focus on the aftermath of the endeavour from the perspective of the publishing house and the editor of PGM, Petermann himself: The marketing of Barth via Geographische Mittheilungen, which first popularised Barth and later fed on Barth’s popularity for years to come.

A Journal is Born

Originally Petermann was expected to revive a former Perthes journal, the Geographisches Jahrbuch. This had been edited by Heinrich Berghaus, who had also been a mentor to Petermann as he trained to become a cartographer. It had been the idea of Justus Perthes’ own Adolf Müller to try a new concept altogether (Smits 2004: 37). In the preface of the very first issue in 1855, Petermann pays homage to his predecessor and also uses Berghaus’ legacy to further specify the profile of the new publication:

In unsern ‚Geographischen Mittheilungen‘, die sich, ihrem Wesen nach, dem ‚Geographischen Jahrbuch‘ unsers innig verehrten Lehrers, Professor Berghaus, anschließen, wollen wir versuchen, ein geringes Scherflein beizutragen zur allgemeinen Kunde neuer oder überhaupt wichtiger Forschungen auf dem Gesammtgebiete tellurischer Wissenschaft. Unsere ‚Mittheilungen‘ sollen sich dadurch von allen ähnlichen Schriften unterscheiden, dass sie auf sorgfältig bearbeiteten und sauber ausgeführten Karten das Endresultat neuer geographischen Forschungen zusammenfassen und graphisch veranschaulichen. Nie wird deshalb eine Nummer unserer Schrift ausgegeben werden ohne eine oder mehrere Karten-Beilagen, und diese werden mit besonderer Rücksicht darauf entworfen werden, dass sie allen Besitzern von Stieler’s Hand-Atlas, Berghaus’ Physikalischem Atlas, und anderen aus derAnstalt hervorgegangenen Kartenwerken ein fortlaufendes leicht zugängliches Supplement in handlicher Form gewähren. Wir werden es uns angelegen sein lassen, besonders wichtige neue Entdeckungen immer sofort, oder möglichst schnell unseren Lesern vorzulegen.

In our ‘Geographische Mittheilungen’, which, in their essence, follow the ‘Geographisches Jahrbuch’ of our deeply respected teacher, Professor Berghaus, we want to try to contribute a little bit to the general knowledge of new or generally important research in the general field of telluric science. Our ‘Mittheilungen’ shall differ from all similar publications in that they summarize and graphically illustrate the final result of new geographic research on carefully edited and neatly executed maps. Therefore, a volume of our publications will never be issued without one or more map supplements, and these will be designed with special consideration to provide all owners of Stieler’s Hand-Atlas, Berghaus’ Physikalischer Atlas, and other cartographic publications produced by the Institute with a continuous, easily accessible supplement in a handy form. We will make it our business to always present especially important new discoveries to our readers immediately, or as soon as possible.

PGM 1855: 2

Already the Geographisches Jahrbuch had published a handful of maps a year. Aiming with PGM for a monthly rhythm, Petermann accelerated the map publication process greatly. Petermann’s vow not to neglect the quality of the produced maps and to never publish an issue without cartographic material not only placed considerable pressure on the mapmakers; it was also unthinkable without the frequent refashioning of material and topics.

Not without pathos, Petermann then introduces the desire for scientific discovery as a human constant. Linking the discoveries of Columbus and probably Alexander von Humboldt, Petermann proclaims that they started a tradition of exploratory sciences. Geographers and exploratory travellers of the 19th century were, for Petermann at least, their “disciples”, who were following in their footsteps for the “deeper understanding of our planet”. Disciples, a term with heavy religious connotations, signifies the holiness of this scientific mission: a recurring theme in PGM, which led to the glorification of travellers deceased in Africa as ‘martyrs of (German) science’ (Struck/Kuhn 2019). In their multitude, the disciples usher in the “wonderful and great world of human knowledge”(PGM 1855: 1). Petermann calls this new endeavour the “Empire of today’s geographical science, a wonderful and great world of human knowledge, unfathomable for our fathers” (PGM 1855:1).

The map “Vier Märtyrer Deutscher Wissenschaft in Inner-Afrika” by August Petermann, published in PGM in 1864, illustrates a quasi-religious nationalist connotation of exploration travels
Gotha Research Library, Perthes Collection, SPK 40.03 A (03), Bl. 6 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Additionally, the language use and metaphors depict a form of masculinity defined by scientific endeavour and exploration; following a common trend in the humanities at this time when researchers struggled to fit into emerging categories of masculinity during the 19th century (Schnicke 2015). The scientist and the explorer are merged into one in Petermann’s editorial, allowing the researcher to participate in the explorer’s masculinity, which was defined by the ability to abstract from his persona and produce objective science. This specific perspective on geographical knowledge production was aptly summarized by Gillian Rose as “masculinist” in nature (Rose 1993: 7–8). Petermann’s construction of “scientific” male heroism also provides the narrative with an emotional anchor for a wider audience, which at the time was very much developing their taste for adventurer’s novels as well as captivating traveller’s accounts of faraway regions.

This narrative was effective in capturing the public imagination. Also, it was easily applicable to the explorers and travellers Petermann kept in close contact with and whom he increasingly motivated to undertake travels into as-yet un(der)charted territories and regions. PGM thus styled cartographers as heroic icons of German geographical science.

Publishing the Hero: Heinrich Barth and Gotha

The first of these contemporary heroes celebrated in PGM was Heinrich Barth. The timing of the expedition might have factored into it, – Barth’s mission ended in 1855, the year after Petermann took over the post as chief cartographer in Gotha, enabling him to use the material resulting from the expedition right away. But also in other aspects, Barth seems like a perfect choice for Petermann: he admired Barth’s diligent focus on scientific exploration and data acquisition, which was duly accompanied by extensive documentation enabling the implementation of the research data into cartographic material.

During the first year of the journal, Barth was a regular contributor. A series of three major articles, centring on Barth’s journey, was published in 1855. Here, letters by Barth to Petermann and others were featured, highlighting the proximity of the Perthes Company to Barth. These outputs mixed editorialisation with reportage; Petermann, for example, heralded Barth as the “most deserved of all African researchers” (“der verdienteste aller Afrikanischen (sic) Forscher”) (PGM 1855: 93).

Perthes published maps that Barth had drafted, corrected, or provided data for, exclusively in the journal. While Barth’s findings were undeniably ground-breaking, PGM made a particular focus on Barth’s methodological approaches which had enabled these scientific successes in the first place. Additionally, Barth himself wrote a teaser article for the last issue of 1855 (PGM 1855: 307–310), which was illustrated with a map, highlighting the coming publication of his travel account.

In promoting Barth, the Perthes company (via Petermann) was thus able to secure prioritised or, at least for the German market, exclusive access to his materials, while at the same time Petermann’s star rose as a contact broker and scientific publisher (Sievers 2021: 181). From a wider perspective, Barth set an example to others who might want to follow in his footsteps, both in their use of methodology and in their choice of publisher.

Keeping the Conversation Going

While Barth was set to publish the German version of his travel report exclusively with Perthes, he first needed time to write. Petermann, therefore, faced the dilemma of having to maintain reader interest in Barth’s accounts until they were published. So in 1856, although there was virtually no new content by Barth, Barth was still the constant centre of attention in the Geographische Mittheilungen aus Justus Perthes’ Geographischer Anstalt. It became Petermann’s habit to point out flaws in other researchers’ methodological styles and achievements by referring to the scientific virtues of Barth, or by centring Barth’s contribution in the field, even when commenting on other research contexts or travellers (e.g. PGM 1856: 26–32 (26); 66–71 (66); 141–146 (141)). The section “Geographische Notizen” was publishing every news of the researcher – the awards and honours he received or the progress in his writing of the travel report. Also, there was the first analysis of some of his biological findings (PGM 1856: 381) and, in the very last issue of 1856, Petermann was finally able to announce that the travel report by Barth was in the process of being published (PGM 1856: 495).

Finally, in 1857, the publication of the travel report was due. In promoting Barth, Petermann started to compare the achievements of the Scottish explorer David Livingstone and Barth; invariably, Livingstone’s work, which had also recently been published, was deemed by Petermann to be methodologically inferior to that of his German counterpart.

A New Standard: The Travel Report and Perthes

Undeniably, PGM was an important cornerstone of geographical and cartographical science communication, which nonetheless needed constant exclusive material to contain the interest of its audience. The appropriation of Heinrich Barth and his subsequent exaltation as an icon of the ‘proper’ methodology for exploratory sciences can be perceived as a common commercial tactic, which was often deployed to market a traveller’s report: It allowed for the publishing house to tie themselves to Barth’s successes and also to secure a constant stream of publishing material. This strategy was decidedly similar to the one David Livingstone’s publisher employed (Schröder 2011: 181).

More than this, however, the experience of publishing the Richardson/Barth expedition provided the Perthes Company with an opportunity to set themselves up as one of the most attractive and leading German publishers of traveller’s accounts. Great care was taken in the production of the maps and the pictures, and the subsequently published travel reports of the Heuglin expedition (organised by Barth) were advertised as being published according to the standards of Barth’s travel account (PGM 1856: 496).

All of this would not have been possible without the exceptional, sometimes fervent drive of August Petermann, who secured access to researchers such as Heinrich Barth, publicised their accounts and relentlessly communicated their scientific value, generating output, popularity and revenue, which served in the publication of further material and the financing of other scientific explorations.

This article is the second of two which use the special case of Heinrich Barth’s Africa expedition to show certain characteristics of the Perthes Collection: While this article revisits the publication strategy of the Perthes Publishing House in the mid-nineteenth century, the first article focuses on the trans-imperial nature of the Perthes Collection’s holdings.

Further Reading

Kuhn, Kristina/Struck, Wolfgang, Aus der Welt gefallen. Die Geographie der Verschollenen, Paderborn 2019.

Marx, Christoph, Von Berlin nach Timbuktu. Der Afrikaforscher Heinrich Barth, Göttingen 2021.

Rose, Gillian, Feminism and Geography. Cambridge 1993.

Schnicke, Falko, Die männliche Disziplin. Zur Vergeschlechtlichung der deutschen Geschichtswissenschaft 1780–1900, Göttingen 2015.

Schröder, Iris, Das Wissen von der ganzen Welt: Globale Geographien und räumliche Ordnungen Afrikas und Europas 1790–1870, Paderborn 2011.

Sievers, Alexander, Die Ökonomisierung der Kartografie. Kartenhandel im 19. Jahrhundert in Deutschland, Mannheim 2021.

Smits, Jan, Petermann’s Maps. Cartobibliography of the Maps in Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, 1855–1945, Leiden/Boston 2004.

Wardenga, Ute, Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, Geographische Zeitschrift und Geographischer Anzeiger: Eine vergleichende Analyse von Zeitschriften in der Geographie 1855–1945. In: Lentz, Sebastian/ Ormeling, Ferjan (eds.): Die Verräumlichung des Welt-Bildes. Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen zwischen explorativer Geographie und der Vermessenheit europäischer Raumphantasien. Beiträge der Internationalen Konferenz auf Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, 9.–11. October 2005. Stuttgart 2008, pp. 31–44.

Cite this blog post
Claudia Berger (2022, August 8). Perthes and Heinrich Barth: Publishing (as) a German Success Story – Part II. Mapping Africa and Asia. Retrieved April 16, 2024, from

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