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Special Collections & University Archives

The Rediscovery of Africa, 1400–1900: Antique Maps & Rare Images

The Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, held an exhibition called The Rediscovery of Africa, 1400–1900: Antique Maps & Rare Images from April 1 through August 1, 2004 in the Petersn Gallery, Green Library..This exhibition highlighted the Stanford University Libraries’ holdings of antique African maps including the Oscar I. Norwich collection, described as one the finest private collections of African maps in the world.

Stanford’s African map collection became a major resource for library users in August of 2001 with the acquisition the Dr. Oscar I. Norwich collection of Maps of Africa and Its Islands. Norwich (1910–1994) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was a practicing surgeon and one of the world’s foremost authorities on African maps. His collection consists of over 300 maps collected over a period of approximately forty years. The acquisition was made in possible in part by a gift from William R. and Yvonne E. Jacobson, who have also established the Jacobson Africana Collections Program at Stanford.

With the acquisition of the Norwich collection, the Stanford University Libraries’ collection of antique African maps has become one of the largest and most diverse in the world. The 570 maps that comprise the collection span the fifteenth through the early twentieth centuries, with most produced at the height of Europe’s colonial expansionto the continent. The oldest map in the collection was printed in Germany in 1486, and was based on the work of Greek geographer Ptolemy. The collection also includes the work of some of Europe’s most famous cartographers.

Taken as a group, the maps in the Stanford’s collection reveal the extraordinary changes in European conceptions of Africa over five centuries. They chronicle the European encounter with African kingdoms, the slave trade, and the colonization of the continent, and the myths and stories that Europeans created to explain Africa to themselves. They provide a unique historical view of origins of cartography, changes in power relationships, commerce, religion, scientific method, and artistry.

In addition to the fine antiquarian maps, the exhibition will feature rare books in Stanford’s collections, including the famous atlas by Abraham Ortelius and John Ogilby’s Africa, both published in the seventeenth century.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Stanford University Libraries published of the exhibition catalogue The Rediscovery of Africa, 1400–1900: Antique Maps & Rare Images. The catalogue includes color reproductions of some of the finest maps in the collection and a series of essays by guest curator William R. Jacobson. The price of the catalog is $25 tax included. To order copies please visit our publications web site or email speccollpubs@stanford.edu