In the mid to late 1880s, the Western public was gripped by fascination over Africa, driven by the newspapers that could deliver almost real-time stories from the field due to the telegraph. Years of exciting exploration expeditions (ex. Livingston, Stanley, etc.), encounters with formidable tribes, the discovery of vast mineral riches, and the carving up of the continent by the European powers into colonial zones at the Berlin Conference (1884-5), bought Africa-mania to a fever pitch!
The interest in Africa was particularly intense in Germany, where the country, newly reunited (in 1871), had established its first overseas colonies (in modern Togo, Cameroon, Namibia and Tanzania), seeking to gain its place ‘in the Sun’ with the other great European powers, such as Britain and France. While Austria-Hungary did not have any overseas colonies of its own, many of its investors and adventurers associated themselves with the German endeavours, so creating their own level of excitement.
The venerable Austro-Hungarian publishing house of A. Hartleben (founded in 1802), with offices in Vienna, Budapest and Leipzig, sought to capitalize upon Africa-mania in the Germanic world, so created the present atlas showcasing Africa in all its diversity, in a sophisticated, yet engaging manner.
Hartleben commissioned the esteemed Vienna map house of Freytag & Berndt to design and print a series of maps that would show Africa’s human and natural resources, as well as all manner of its geography and climate, etc. The result is 18 colour lithographed plates (8 of which are double page), including numerous insets, giving a total of 50 maps.
The first four plates feature thematic cartography, including political mapping, hypsometric mapping, vegetation mapping and an ethnographic mapping. This if followed by 12 plates showcasing the continent’s different regions, while the final two plates concern transportation and the principal islands of Africa. The plates are all explained by 14 pages of text.
The atlas proved highly popular and influential, not only by setting a standard for how Africa should be treated by cartographers (with thematic cartography and strong regional mapping), but also the form in which atlases should be marketed the public (small format, colourful and engaging, yet sophisticated). The praise for the atlas was international, as the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography wrote: “This is an excellent little atlas, and contains a large amount of valuable information with regard to Africa”.
Curiously, the present example of the atlas has a colour plate from another publication, Meyer’s Lexicon, depicting the diverse peoples of Africa, ‘Afrikanische Völker’ Meyer’s Lexicon (neatly inserted between pp. 2 and 3).
While there are several examples of the atlas in institutional holdings, the work is scarce on the market, appearing only occasionally.
Here is a list of the plates in the atlas, with their main titles:
Tafel I – Politische Karte von Afrika.
Tafel II – Hypsometrische Karte von Afrika.
Tafel III – Vegetationskarte von Afrika.
Tafel IV – Ethnographische Karte von Afrika.
Tafel V – Südafrika.
Tafel VI – Ostküste von Afrika.
Tafel VII – Central-Afrika.
Tafel VIII – Westküste von Aequatorial-Afrika.
Tafel IX – Ogowemündung, Gabun etc.
Tafel X – Oberguinea, Senegambien, Nigerländer.
Tafel XI – Oestlicher Sudan, Abessinien etc.
Tafel XII – Die Länder am oberen Nil und Abessinien.
Tafel XIII – Aegypten und Nubien.
Tafel XIV – Die Sahara.
Tafel XV – Nördliches Afrika (westliche Hälfte).
Tafel XVI – Nördliches Afrika (östliche Hälfte).
Tafel XVII – Verkehrskarte von Afrika.
Tafel XVIII – Die wichtigsten Inseln Afrikas.
References: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: 8″ Kart. C 1022; Library of Congress: G2445 .A4 1886; Jürgen ESPENHORST, George R Crossman (ed.), Petermann’s Planet. A Guide to German Handatlases And Their Siblings Throughout the World 1800-1950: Volume II: The Rare and Small Handatlases (2008), p. 852; Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, vol. 8 (1886), p. 350; Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, Band 13 (1886), p. 362; Östreichische militärische Zeitschrift, XXVII Jahrgang, Erster Band (1886), p. 58; Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, Band 13 (1886), p. 362.