- Mapping Colonial Conquest: Australia and Southern Africa
Mapping Colonial Conquest is a visually stunning book. Given the subject matter, this is not only desirable, but necessary. As Norman Etherington points out in his 'Introduction', this project has been made possible by the new digital technologies of knowledge production, which have made the maps, illustrations and works of art that are the central concern of this book available online for research, dissemination, reproduction and publication. Mapping Colonial Conquest overcomes one of the most common flaws of an edited collection: it is much more than a series of discrete chapters on a common theme tied together by the editor's introduction. Instead, the book represents a successful interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars resulting in an intellectually coherent and engaging comparison that expounds 'the new history of cartography' analysing the discourse, meaning and context of knowledge production represented visually in maps and artistic landscapes. The case studies, South Africa and Australia, have parallel histories of exploration, colonial conquest, settlement and nation building that make comparisons of hydrography, cartography, land surveying, fantasy and historical mapping, and urban planning not mere juxtapositions but analytically novel arguments that raise thought-provoking questions about both their respective histories. The introduction and two of the eight chapters are written by Etherington, who also co-authors another chapter with Lindy Stiebel. The book therefore breaks with another usual convention for an edited collection. Etherington's extensive scholarship on mapping is in dialogue with the other six authors throughout the book rather than being [End Page 193] confined to the editor's 'Introduction'.
Mapping is a cultural act, creating a form of power-knowledge that explains the world in a visual representation of the environment. Part of the dynamic of European exploration and colonisation was the appropriation of indigenous knowledge in the creation of maps that were then both used and erased in order to undermine indigenous claims to their land and resources and to foster colonial settlement. The cartographic art of Aboriginal people was conceptually entirely different from European conventions of mapping, yet both were concerned with identifying water sources in the land. As Vivian Louis Forbes and Marion Hercock explain, European exploration was at first more concerned with mapping water and shorelines rather than interior landscapes. European imperialism would have been impossible without the development of the maritime sciences and charting the seas was a crucial prior step to territorial occupation. Nevertheless, as Forbes and Hercock show, the circulation of the latest hydrographic charts even within the British Navy was not systematised until the mid-nineteenth century, resulting in the continued loss of ships wrecked or sunk due to inaccurate maps. Connections between the Admiralty Hydrographic Office and learned scientific societies like the Royal Geographical Society generated knowledge through personal connections and shared membership that eventually enabled the scope of marine surveys to expand beyond the surface of the water and coastlines into oceanography.
Stiebel and Etherington point out that not all modern mapping projects were scientific in nature. Fantasy maps, as part of literature, played an important role in fueling the imagination of reading publics about foreign lands that were being penetrated by European explorers and colonisers. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) has been a long time favourite of scholars in this genre for its overt feminisation and eroticisation of Africa as a 'bodyscape' written to titillate (pun intended) Victorian readers and fill in their imagination of the 'Dark Continent'. But not all fantasy maps were designed as accompaniments for adventure stories written to stimulate the imagination of school boys. Mapping the 'lost continent' of Lemuria by the members of the Theosophist movement was intended to expound their theories of racial degeneration in which the Australian Aborigines were considered one of the last of a dying breed of inferior races. Fantasy maps show that 'Social Darwinism was only one source of late-Victorian racism, and that racism need not be scientific to be intellectually influential' (62). George Stow's historical map of African migrations was concocted to prove [End Page 194] that...