Towns and Elephants

  • Philip D. Curtin


It is almost an accepted convention that no book shall deal with African exploration without some reference to Swift’s famous lines on cartography. Geographers of the early nineteenth century began the wholesale replacement of elephants with towns, at least in West Africa. The increase in geographical knowledge between 1790 and 1830 was greater than that of any comparable period. Explorers followed virtually the whole course of the Niger. They crossed West Africa from the Guinea Coast to the Maghrib. The major cities were either visited or known by hearsay, and their positions were plotted with tolerable accuracy. Chains of mountains, the important drainage, the principal political units—all these were located and described in outline. New maps had every right to the towns, but geographers might well have left a liberal sprinkling of elephants, symbolically representing certain remaining areas of ignorance and misunderstanding, especially in the field of ethnography.


Eighteenth Century Niger Delta Slave Trade Gold Coast African Culture 
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  • Philip D. Curtin

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