Unveiling Map Making: A Cartographer’s Account

On Friday, May 4, 1906, Bruno Domann left his desk at the Perthes publishing house in Gotha carrying travel accounts, maps and instruments. However, he did not take the materials home in order to finish maps for the new printing run of the Stieler’s Hand-Atlas or Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen. Domann was on his way to the inn Zum Schützen, where the meetings of the Naturwissenschaftlicher Verein Gotha (Scientific Association Gotha) took place. The Verein had been founded in 1875; by 1906, it held regular meetings, at which members like Domann himself presented various science-related topics to each other. This article provides insight into the probable contents of Domann’s presentation that evening and shows the scope of scientific communication between expert communities and the local population in Gotha.

Bruno Domann was a student of August Petermann and spent his entire career – 44 years starting in 1868 – at Justus Perthes in Gotha. During his time, he worked on maps for the journal Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen as well as for Perthes’ leading product, Stieler’s Hand-Atlas (Weller 1911: 238–239). He was responsible for revising older maps, compiling maps into new ones, and autographing the maps before printing. In those tasks, he often collaborated with other cartographers working for the publishing house, such as August Petermann, Bruno Hassenstein, and Hermann Habenicht. His contribution is acknowledged by his name on the map since the compiler and autographer are usually mentioned on prints. But he also excelled in the highly specialized task of constructing travel routes out of itineraries, providing the necessary material for the first draft of a map, a work he talked about and presented in his spare time to the interested public. His lecture in May 1906, recorded via reports in local newspapers and contextualized by the vast material of the Perthes Collection, makes it possible to take a closer look at the process of visualizing data for maps and cartographic material.

Josef Menges in Africa, Sven Hedin in Asia

During his talk in the inn Zum Schützen, Domann brought with him the itinerary of Josef Menges’ travels in Somalia in 1891/92, parts of Sven Hedin’s itinerary of his first travel in Asia 1894–1897, as well as map sketches and finished maps of Justus Perthes Gotha to explain the construction of routes during the mapping process to his audience.

Both Menges and Hedin had sent their notes to the publishing house in Gotha for the publication of articles with accompanying maps in Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen. Josef Menges (1850–1910) was a German animal trader who caught and bought animals in Africa to sell them to European zoos. He mostly travelled the Horn of Africa and published several articles about his geographic observations in the journal, the final one is based on his travels in 1891/92.

Josef Menges’ Reisen auf das Hochplateau der Somali Halbinsel in den Jahren 1884 und 1892, published in Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen in 1894.
Gotha Research Library, Perthes Collection, SPA 4° 00100 (040) (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Sven Hedin (1865–1952) conducted several expeditions into Central Asia, cataloguing place names and rivers, collecting botanical and zoological specimens and observing the meteorology. His material was so extensive that the publishing house decided it warranted a 400-page supplementary volume of Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen, including six maps. The volume contained the travel account of Hedin, followed by short papers of scientists evaluating the botanical and geological specimen he collected and a commentary by the cartographer Bruno Hassenstein, who oversaw the map production at Perthes.

The first three sheets of the map of Sven Hedin’s travels, published in a supplementary edition to Petermann’s Geographische Mittheilungen in 1900.
Gotha Research Library, Perthes Collection, SPK 30.18 C (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Travelling and Data Collection

The itineraries of Menges and Hedin contained the notes and measurements taken on-site. Both men used a compass and a clock to register their route. Since the speed of travel varies with respect to the mode of movement (which could range from camel, horse, mule, ox, boat, on foot, and more), as well as weather and ground conditions, they had to re-measure their speed and direction of movement regularly. This generated a large amount of material; Hedin, for example, wrote 550 pages during his four years of travel, which he later sent to Gotha (Hassenstein 1900: 378).

Once the accounts reached the publishing house, the cartographers got to work. They drew routes, mountains, rivers, and settlements to be found in the different areas. To produce reliable maps, the cartographers were dependent on correct data, therefore the travellers’ diligence with respect to data collection as well as their networks to local informants, were very important. The lack of data led to uncertain positions of places and geological formations on the map. The map resulting from Menges’ itinerary contains a note by Hassenstein, stating that due to missing latitude measurements, the cartographers could not place it within a graticule. Hedin, by contrast, added drawings and sketches of landscapes, shapes of mountains or city plans to his travel notes. The first sketches of the Hedin’s route as a whole, however, were produced in the publishing house, since the notes often lacked a cohesive scale.


Having gained access to the accounts of the travellers, the first step was to construct the route cartographically. Those were the first lines of the map-to-be. Using the astronomical data provided by the travellers, a cartographer transferred the notes into a map grid. Starting at a camp of the travelling group, the cartographer drew the routes, noting times of the day when certain landmarks like rivers, mountains, and settlements were reached. This step was called Rohkonstruktion (raw construction). The cartographer had to decide which notes of the region made it onto the map. Some itineraries contained too many notes, which could not fit into an intelligible map, while others had notes that were deemed untrustworthy or inaccurate and were therefore omitted. Rohkonstruktionen are sketch-like and often contain written comments or quotes from the itineraries. In the case of the Map of Menges’ Travels in Somalia, the sketches have been preserved in a map portfolio (call number: SPK 40.25 A (02)) in the Perthes Map Collection.

Rohkonstruktion of Menges’ route, a unique artefact of the Perthes Collection Gotha.
Gotha Research Library, Perthes Collection, SPK 40.25 A (02) (CC BY-SA 4.0).

It is noteworthy that Domann’s name does not appear on the Rohkonstruktionen for the map of Menges’ route, nor on the printed map itself. On the latter, the editor Bruno Hassenstein and the autographer Carl Schmidt are mentioned. Since there is no extensive commentary about the production process of the map, the contribution of the person in charge of the Rohkonstruktion – most likely Domann – is lost to the contemporary reader and historians alike.

Sources mentioning the person responsible for this task are rare but do exist. A good example are the maps in the special volume depicting Sven Hedin’s travel in Central Asia. The six maps of the volume were also edited and autographed by Bruno Hassenstein and Carl Schmidt. Those two are – again – the only names appearing at the bottom of the print. But the extensive commentary by Bruno Hassenstein gives details about how Domann, with decades of experience, produced the Rohkonstruktion of Sven Hedin’s travels from 1894–1894 within two months (Hassenstein 1900: 380).

Construction and Compilation: Cartographic Skills

Producing the Rohkonstruktion of a map, although often invisible in the final product, is an integral aspect of cartographic work. The technical process led to several sheets of lines, dates, and notes about the landscape that surrounded the travelled route. Those sheets then had to be compiled and integrated into existing maps of the region. According to Domann, the aforementioned Bruno Hassenstein excelled at compiling maps (Gothaische Zeitung 1906). The third cartographer connected to the maps shown here is Carl Schmidt. He appears to have been responsible for creating the final map design. All three of them trained and worked as cartographers at the Perthes publishing house. And, while they were tasked with different steps in the map-making process during their career, each cartographer specialized in certain areas and fields.

From Sketch to Print. (click image to play video)
Gotha Research Library, Perthes Collection, SPK 40.25 A (02) and SPA 4° 00100 (031) (CC BY-SA 4.0); video by A.-M. Hünnes.


Anon., „Aus Stadt und Land“, Gothaische Zeitung nebst Regierungs-Blatt für das Herzogtum Gotha (supplement), Vol. 215 (1906), No. 107.

Anon., „N.W.V.“, 8.5.1906. In: Gothaisches Tageblatt, Vol. 215 (1906), No. 107.

Espenhorst, Jürgen, Petermann’s Planet. A Guide to German Handatlases and Their Siblings Throughout the World 1800–1950, Volume 1: The Great Handatlases, Schwerte 2003.

Hassenstein, Bruno, Begleitworte zu den Karten. In: Sven Hedin: Die geographisch-wissenschaftlichen Ergebnisse meiner Reisen in Zentralasien 1894–1897, Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen. Ergänzungsband 23,  Vol. 131 (1900), pp. 378–399.

Köhler, Franz, Gothaer Wege in Geographie und Kartographie, Gotha 1987.

Weller, Hugo Ewald, August Petermann. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der geographischen Entdeckungen und der Kartographie im 19. Jahrhundert, Leipzig 1911.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Anna-Maria Hünnes (October 28, 2022). Unveiling Map Making: A Cartographer’s Account. Mapping Africa and Asia. Retrieved July 12, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/qlpm

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2 Responses

  1. 16/02/2024

    […] cartes, désormais accessibles en ligne, couvrent divers sujets tels que les cartes de maladies, la production cartographique européenne et les imaginaires coloniaux. Le projet a mis l’accent sur la précision géographique en […]

  2. 16/02/2024

    […] cartes, désormais accessibles en ligne, couvrent divers sujets tels que les cartes de maladies, la production cartographique européenne et les imaginaires coloniaux. Le projet a mis l’accent sur la précision géographique en […]

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