The Perthes Collection comprises the holdings of the publishing houses Justus Perthes Gotha, Justus Perthes Darmstadt and the VEB Hermann Haack Gotha. It is one of the most significant archives of a map publishing house on the European continent. A remarkable part of the holdings is the map collection, which consists of around 200 000 sheets of cartographic material. Since it contains maps in all stages of their development that were produced in Gotha, from draft maps to the finalized printed product, as well as maps the publishers purchased internationally since the beginning of the 19th century, the map collection presents a mesmerizing opportunity for researchers of historical cartography. Thanks to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s (BMBF) financial support, a significant part of the map collection will now be made available online: Within two years, more than 35 000 of the collection’s maps of Africa and Asia from 1800 to 1945 will be catalogued, digitized and made available to the scientific community. All digitized items will be published at the Digital Historical Library Erfurt/Gotha (DHB), hosted by the Thuringian University and State Library (ThULB) Jena. A selection of the project’s first finds and findings are presented at our blog Mapping Africa and Asia. Moreover, the diverging research fields to which the collection contributes, as well as the overall research potential of the collection will be further presented and discussed during events, conferences and workshops.
Next to copperplate prints, lithographs, revision copies and press proofs, hand drawings and manuscript maps are part of the collection’s most exceptional pieces. These contain itineraries and draft maps by travellers in Africa and Asia, landscape sketches, as well as unique cartographic drafts and drawings by Gotha’s cartographers, who aggregated the collected data in the form of maps. A lot of these drafts preserve local knowledge that showcases political and territorial contexts as well as social and cultural connections. The project builds on the insights of previous pilot studies, especially those focused on the research of historical maps of north-eastern Africa in the Perthes Collection (ETHIOMAP). The plan is to capture, document and communicate these knowledge resources. It is therefore the project’s agenda to make the local knowledge, inscribed visually and linguistically in draft maps and cartographic sketches alike, available via scientific cooperation and research projects in Africa and Asia.
The maps are of significance for the recent history of many parts of Africa and Asia as well as European history in a global, colonial context. In this context maps always work as a medium that visualizes the spatial interdependencies. The knowledge concentrated in map sketches and later reformulated from a European perspective in the production of cartography was not only used for illustration and orientation but also became part of political discourses: In the second half of the 19th century, political geography, as well as new political cartography, was on the rise, emboldened by a new perspective on the world by Europeans, who were focusing on their colonial projects in Africa and Asia. An international research group dedicates itself to the ensuing research questions concerning the maps of Asia and Africa in the Perthes Collection. This group works on the topic of “Territoriality and Cartographic Knowledge” using concepts of cartographic history and area histories as well as research perspectives of global history and transcultural studies.
The Cartographies of Africa and Asia project presents the publishing house Justus Perthes Gotha and its successors as the nodal point of historical and recent research networks and will continue to do so in the future. It highlights the Perthes Collection’s potential to open up innovative perspectives on questions concerning the history of knowledge and the history of science during the time of colonial globalism. The project´s goal is to develop this potential putting to use the instruments of transcultural studies and to invite researchers to engage with the collection and its digitized content.
The project is situated in Gotha and focuses on digitizing the Perthes collection’s maps of Africa and Asia as well as on communicating the collection to the scientific community. It is a collaborative endeavor between the Perthes Collection / Gotha Research Library and the Centre for Transcultural Studies.
Project presentation at the Gotha Research Library
Image: Originalkarte der nord-abessinischen Grenzlande, Scale: 1:500.000, Bruno Hassenstein, 1864 © SPK 547-112085962, Perthes Collection / Gotha Research Library