P. Collier, A.W. Pearson

University of Portsmouth, UK


Until the foundation of the ICA, the International Geographical Union (IGU) was the chief international forum for the promotion of programmes to map the unmapped parts of the World. The work of Penck, and others, to promote the International Map of the World has been well documented by Pearson et al. (2006), but this was only one initiative taken by the IGU.


Following the portioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884, most imperial nations needed to map their newly acquired territories, but only the French in North Africa had anything approaching a systematic mapping programme. During, and after, the 6th International Geographical Congress, held in London in 1895, determined efforts were made to use the IGU to promote the mapping of Africa. Chief amongst those behind the effort in London were the President of the Royal Geographical Society, Clements Markham, and a number of figures with links to British military intelligence.


As is clear from the proceedings of the 1895 meeting, the main aim of some of those promoting the mapping of Africa was the opening up of land suitable for European settlement or exploitation. However, there were also calls for the Protectorates to be mapped as a first step in their development.


Even as the IGU was seeking to promote the mapping of Africa, there was a continuing debate about how that end was to be achieved. Should the surveys be carried out by European surveyors, or should the Indian model be adopted, where a local work force would work under European supervision?


This paper will explore the parallels between the proposals for the International Map of the World and the proposals for the mapping of Africa. It will examine both the politics behind the proposals, and also the conflicts over the approaches to be adopted. It will also argue that, however well intentioned the proposals, the technical resources available at the time were inadequate to meet the needs.