‘One of the reasons for the exhibition is that Africa is never out of the news yet remains for most of us a perpetual enigma,” says John Delaney, curator of Firestone Library’s Historic Maps Collection, about “To the Mountains of the Moon: Mapping African Exploration,”a new exhibition opening Sunday, April 15, that documents the evolution of the map of Africa from 1541 to 1880. “The collection of visually-appealing maps, coupled with illustrations and writings by the men who journeyed the continent, will expand one’s appreciation for the richness, diversity and history of Africa.”

Benefiting primarily from the 19th-century efforts of British, French, and German explorers, most of the general mapping of Africa took place between the founding of the African Association in 1788 and the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the start of the “Scramble for Africa” by colonial powers — a span of roughly 100 years.

On view are some of the most historically significant Africa maps by major cartographers such as Sebastian Menster, Abraham Ortelius, Willem Janszoon Blaeu, Vincenzo Coronelli, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville, Guillaume de L’Isle, and Martin Waldseemuller.

While particular focus is given to missionary David Livingstone, adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton, and journalist Henry Morton Stanley, additional facets of the exhibition cover the expeditions of two dozen other of the most important European explorers/travelers to Africa. Included are Sir Samuel White Baker, Heinrich Barth, James Bruce, William John Burchell, Rene Caillie, Verney Lovett Cameron, Hugh Clapperton, Dixon Denham, the Lander brothers, Francois Le Vaillant, Mungo Park, John Hanning Speke, and Georg August Schweinfurth. The exhibit includes these men’s published narratives, open to their own maps and illustrated with their own drawings. They show and tell what they saw on their incredible journeys “through the dark continent” — bearing their personal frailties, cultural biases, and stereotypical notions.

European exploration of Africa sought several geographic “prizes,” among which were to reach the fabled city of Timbuktu, to navigate the entire length of the Niger River (Did it evaporate in the desert or flow as a tributary of the Nile? Did it flow to the east or the west?), to discover the sources of the Nile, and to behold the Mountains of the Moon, an iconic feature of early maps of Africa said to be the legendary source of the Nile. The desire to eradicate slavery (banned in the British Empire in 1833) was an additional motivation for British missionaries and some British explorers to push on into uncharted African territory, but the pure adventure of the undertaking was reason enough for most.

The exhibit also includes a handwritten letter by Henry Morton Stanley, dated from Zanzibar on November 11, 1874, the night before he was to embark on his transcontinental expedition and addressed to his New York publisher, J. Blair Scribner. (In 1872, Scribner had published his best-selling account of finding the missing missionary David Livingstone, containing the historic phrase, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) There is also the bell from Livingstone’s small steamship Pioneer, which he used to explore the navigable lower parts of the Rovuma, Zambezi, and Shire rivers.

On the opening day of the exhibit, Pasquale Scaturro, the leader of the Nile First Descent Expedition, will speak on “The Exploration of the Great Rivers of Africa,” in Friend Center 101 on campus.

Scaturro, a geophysicist, is one of the most successful mountain and river expedition leaders in the world and has been exploring the far reaches of the planet for over 25 years. He is founder and president of Exploration Specialists, an international geophysical and exploration company. He has been a high-altitude mountaineering expert for more than two decades and has been the leader of numerous expeditions to major mountains worldwide, including three expeditions to Everest. In 1998 he reached the summit of Mt. Everest, and in 2001 he conceived, organized, and led the National Federation of the Blind Everest Expedition.

From November, 2003, to April, 2004, he organized and led the historic 114-day Nile First Descent Expedition, the first complete descent of the Blue Nile and Nile River from its source high in the mountains of Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea, a distance of 3,260 miles. He has also filmed rafting and mountaineering projects for ESPN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and OrbitaMax.

“To the Mountains of the Moon: Mapping African Exploration, 1541-1880,” Sunday, April 15, through October 21, main exhibition gallery, Firestone Library, Princeton University. Free, open to the Public. Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Also, opening lecture, “The Exploration of the Great Rivers of Africa,” by Pasquale Scaturro, leader of the Nile First Descent Expedition (2003-2004), Sunday, April 15, 4 p.m., Friend Center 101, William Street. (Simulcast in 104 Computer Science Building next door.)

Exhibition opening follows in Firestone Library at 5 p.m. Free and open to the public.

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