Cary, John, ca. 1754-1835.
“A New Map of Africa from the Latest Authorities.” Copperplate map, with added color, 45 x 51 cm. From Cary’s New Universal Atlas (London, 1808). [Historic Maps Collection]
The text in the large cartouche offers a rudimentary itinerary for sailors from Lusitania to Calechut (Calicut, India), describing a route which essentially avoids Africa. Lusitania was a province of the Roman Empire, comprising most of modern Portugal and part of Spain.
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In this location was the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization that combatted racial, class, and gender discrimination worldwide. It also served as the last home for . Bethune was the first person in her family born free and the only person in her family afforded a formal education. Her passion in life was to empower young African American women through education. She founded Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls in 1904, which was later renamed Bethune-Cookman College. In 1935, she became the highest ranking African American woman in the the federal government, working as the Director of the Negro Division of a New Deal program called the National Youth Administration.
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The decorations, however, are intriguing and revealing. The hot African sun reigns over the continent. On the right, a French military officer is showing an armed Arab a map or other document (a surrender document?), while French soldiers and Arab horsemen look on. Seated above them on a shelf is a turbaned Muslim holding a tablet lettered CORAN (Koran). Along the bottom is a display of fruit, foliage, and animals, including small oval views of Alexandria, Cairo, and Algiers. An African woman, with lions at her feet and a camel and ostrich at her side, is seated on the left. An obelisk and pyramid (bearing current population statistics) recall ancient history. The French text notes that the descendants of Cham, one of Noah’s sons, spread through the continent, first in Egypt and Libya, and that Algeria (recently conquise by the French) will have a glorious future. Like its English counterpart (the Tallis atlas), Levasseur’s work is considered to be one of the last great decorative atlases.
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First published in 1845, this map underwent little change in subsequent editions through 1869. An interesting contrast to the preceding English map of the same period, this French version appears subordinate to its surrounding pictorial (and political) representations. For its date, the map’s geographical detail is poor and rather limited. It has not benefited, for example, from the published route maps of French explorer René Caillié’s travels (1824-1828) to Timbuktu and beyond.
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Between the time of this and Cary’s map, British explorers have crossed the Sahara, descended the Niger to its outlet in the Gulf of Guinea, and visited large areas of west and southern Africa. Not surprisingly then, the map’s vignettes show an Algerian family, a Bedouin Arabs’ desert encampment, two different Hottentot tribes (Bosjeman and Korranna) of southern Africa, and a view of the island of St. Helena. Important as a port of call for ships returning to Europe from the East Indies, the island declined in importance after the Suez Canal opened in 1869.