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To the Mountains of the Moon Mapping African Exploration, 1541-1880
on display in the
Benefiting primarily from the 19th‑century efforts of British, French, and German explorers, most of the general mapping of Africa took place between the founding of the African Association in 1788 and the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the start of the “Scramble for Africa” by colonial powers—a span of roughly one hundred years. European exploration of Africa sought several geographic prizes, among which were to reach the fabled city of Timbuktu, to navigate the entire length of the Niger River (Did it evaporate in the desert or flow as a tributary of the Nile? Did it flow to the east or the west?), to discover the sources of the Nile, and to behold the Mountains of the Moon, an iconic feature of early maps of Africa. The desire to eradicate slavery (banned in the British Empire in 1833) was an additional motivation for British missionaries and some British explorers to push on into uncharted African territory, but the pure adventure of the undertaking was reason enough for most. Drawing from the cartographic and rare book resources of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of Princeton University Library, this exhibition documents the evolution of the map of Africa, 1541-1880. It is a story told in the expedition maps, illustrations, and words of those explorers.