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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'From the Best Authorities': The Mountains of Kong in the Cartography of West Africa
Authors:Bassett, Thomas J.
Porter, Philip W.
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic term:West Africa
History and Exploration
Abstract:On 19th-century maps of Africa, a great mountain chain named the Mountains of Kong stretches across much of the western part of the continent around the 10th parallel. The mountains first appear in two maps drawn by James Rennell for Mungo Park's account of his journey to the Niger River. They subsequently appear on nearly all of the major commercial maps of the 19th century. What is intriguing about the Kong Mountains is that they never existed except in the imaginations of explorers, mapmakers and merchants. The 'rise' and 'fall' of these mountains is of theoretical interest to cartographic historians for two reasons. First, their representation underscores the view that the conventional periodization of the history of mapmaking into 'decorative' and 'scientific' phases is greatly exaggerated. Maps are, above all, social constructions drawn for specific audiences within their historical contexts. Second, the cartographic history of the Kong Mountains illustrates the extraordinary authority of maps. The first part of this essay examines early manifestations and 19th-century representations of the Kong Mountains in some 292 maps. The next section discusses the contexts in which the Mountains of Kong were 'discovered' in 1796 by Mungo Park and illustrated by James Rennell. Next, the role of later explorers in perpetuating the myth of the Kong Mountains is reviewed. Finally, popular perceptions of the mountains and views that challenged their existence are examined. The elimination of the mountain chain in 1888 is credited to L.-G. Binger. App., bibliogr., notes, ref., sum.