19 March 2010

CALL FOR PAPERS: Mapping Africa from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century

I received the following notice today through H-Levant, 'a moderated e-mail list for those interested in the scholarly discussion of the modern history and culture of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean.'

Mapping Africa from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century: Construction, Transmission and Circulation of Cartographic Knowledge about Africa, Europe, and the Arab world (Paris – 2-3 December 2010)

Colonial mapping of Africa during 20th century has received much insightful attention but recent research invites us to overlook the western bias by considering knowledge construction in a global and interconnected perspective while re-inserting the chronology of the colonial moment in the longue durée. We will seek to develop a history of geographical and cartographic knowledge encompassing simultaneously European, Islamic and African productions and highlighting circulation of knowledge and practices between these different spaces. Rejecting the idea of westernization of the world undertaken through maps we wish to question knowledge and discourses about the representation of African spaces.

The adopted timeframe makes a voluntary break with the institutional and political eras in order to understand African cartography as a process which would neither be restricted to the ancient cartographic image of a virgin continent inhabited by lions, nor limited to the image of a vacuum that colonial cartography would eventually fill. Medieval Western scholars inherited the concept of Africa from ancient authorities who considered it as the third part of the oikoumenē, lying in dreamt and dreaded horizons. Thus, our familiar notion of the African continent proceeds from a progressive intellectual construction stemming from the Middle-Ages. However, this story shall not be reduced to a positivist construction where linear progress originating from medieval cartography would ineluctably lead to an assumingly more scientific representation of space. Although African cartography evolved through empirical discoveries as the Portuguese navigations or through epistemological breakthrough as the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s “Geography”, it was also burdened by centuries-old scholarly traditions which proved difficult to re-consider in the light of experience. At the end of the nineteenth century, growing imperial cartography emptied African territories, allowing the Europeans to divide the continent in the name of a globally homogeneous space. Indeed, we seek to reveal these different graphic representations of the African continent oscillating between discovery and oblivion and between revelation and myth.

Numerous authors, following the footsteps of J.B. Harley, analysed maps as instruments of power and stressed the symbolic dimension of mapping. Beyond this aspect, it seems epistemologically fundamental not to forget the material aspect of maps. We would like papers which will question mapping processes and which analyse techniques, knowledge and practices at the base of maps. One of the main aims of this conference will be to analyse in depth the construction and circulation of geographical knowledge between the different cultural areas. We invite paper submissions on transfers and circulation of cartographic practices and on the origin of geographical knowledge. We are interested in hearing from scholars who would study the heterogeneity of cartographic knowledge in maps originating from one or numerous cartographic traditions. We welcome papers, not only on the representation of the continent and transcontinental exchanges, but also on local or regional microhistory.

Abstracts of 300 words should be sent by 3 May 2010, in English or French, to Camille Lefebvre (CEMAf), Robin Seignobos (University of Paris I) and Vincent Hiribarren (University of Leeds), conference organizers to: cartographierlafrique@gmail.com

Cosponsored by the CEMAf (http://www.cemaf.cnrs.fr/), the National Library of France (BNF http://www.bnf.fr/), and the French committee of Cartography (http://www.lecfc.fr/).

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