Africa & Europe: Map Questions… Answered!
MANSA MUSA was the king of Mali, one of the wealthiest kingdoms of its time. Mali’s wealth was based in part on gold, several tons of which were exported each year into the Mediterranean economy. This gold helped fuel the Renaissance and was used in works of art as well as for currency, such as florentines and doubloons. The cartographer depicted Mansa Musa as he would a European monarch, though we now know that his dress and regalia were Malian in style.
You might wonder why the 1548 map is more detailed than the one drawn over two hundred and fifty years later in 1806. (Click here for a more detailed image of each map)
By 1806, Western Europe was heavily involved in slave trading. Serious exploration would come only later in the century, when Europeans developed legitimate commercial interests in Africa to fuel an Industrial Revolution. In 1806 Europeans had little interest in what was happening in the continent.
Second, African business and political leaders worked hard to keep European traders at arms’ length, generally restricting them to small areas on the coast. The success of these policies severely limited European exploration.
The final reason, ironically, comes out of the Scientific Revolution. European cartographers required verification for information put in their maps. Arab cartographers at that time had substantial information-and had had it for centuries. Yet Europeans made little use of Arab knowledge. Part of the reason lies in the limited contact between Europeans and Arabs at this time, and part arises out of a racism that was beginning to develop in Europe during the period of the slave trade.
I would like to thank Craig Murphy of Wellesley College for his ideas on the impact of the Scientific Revolution on European cartography and to thank him as well for permission to use the last three of these maps, all of which come from his personal collection. The French National Library has given permission to use the 1375 Catalan map from their collection.