Competing cartography in the colonial context: the case of Cameroon

In this post, Dieunedort Wandji, a student on the MA Francophone Africa programme, presents his independent research project on colonial mapping and Cameroon.

As part of my MA in Francophone Africa at the University of Portsmouth, I undertook an Independent Project exploring the relationship between colonial power and mapping. For this project, I began by exploring the theoretical approaches to maps and mappings as they relate to the colonial context, precisely against the backdrop of colonial competition in Cameroon. Drawing on seminal works on critical cartography, I also attempted to recover the voices of the colonised through maps, along with assessing the post-colonial impact of colonial mapping as regards Cameroon. This blog will provide a brief overview of the theoretical underpinnings of my research, as well as the main research questions and aims, I hope to address in my project. The final project comprises of an online presentation of the visual features of maps, with conclusions derived from analyzing various maps and based on the theoretical framework developed around colonial mapping. This presentation is aimed at both undergraduate and graduate students of Francophone Africa with an interest in the colonial period and mapping, as well as those who wish to to further develop specific historical knowledge about Cameroon.

As an overview, four major colonial powers (Portugal, France, UK, and Germany) have at some point laid claim on Cameroon as colonial territory (Bouopda, 2006), and a constant trait in each of these countries’ occupation discourse was the production of maps of Cameroon. A series of arresting works in the historiography of colonial mapping (Harley, 1989; Wood, 2010) have since the 1980s articulated the use of maps by colonial powers to legitimate and advance territorial control. In fact drawing upon the Westphalian understanding of the relationship between State and territory that guided various colonial projects, Harley (2009; 1989) supports the view that maps are tools and representations of hegemonic power. So, maps of Cameroon as produced by various (in some instances simultaneous) colonial masters, constitute a unique body of historical evidence on the country and provide an opportunity to study the relationship between mapping and colonial power, especially in the African colonial context. My research focused mainly on German and French maps of Cameroon, because Portuguese and British maps are not as numerous as the former, for reasons that are detailed in the online presentation.

By electing exclusively online sources for maps, planning for a digital output and interpreting the production of the artefacts within the broader context of the politics of imperial representation in the colonial era, when Africa was unusually mapped by European superpowers (Austen, 2001), I aim to not only underscore the impact of certain colonial practices both on Cameroon and on knowledge about Cameroon, but to also highlight the placement of maps found in online archival sources as a self-reproducing post-colonial site of knowledge with a significant potential in this digital age of ours.

In other words, using the information technology principle of input/output, I start a research journey online with data collection/analysis and end it online through a recorded presentation on maps, with a view to answer the following research questions:

  1. How did various maps of Cameroon shape knowledge and understanding of this contested space?
  2. What is the relationship between colonial mapping and narratives of occupation in Cameroon?
  3. What do the cartographic devices used on maps of Cameroon tell us about the construction and projection of power on the world stage?
  4. To what extent can the artefacts studied enable us to recover the voices of the colonised?

Please click here to watch my final presentation. After watching my presentation, you will be prompted to an optional quiz.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and watch my presentation. Any comments or feedback would be warmly welcomed via email (dieunedortwandji@gmail.com).

 

 

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