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The Art of African Exploration

The lure of the unknown has always inspired travel. Early maps of Africa show vast expanses of uncharted territory. Before the 1800s, little was known about the interior of the continent, its geography, plants, animals, and peoples. As advances in medicine and technology made longer journeys possible, the zeal for African exploration peaked. A host of European travelers, driven by scientific curiosity, the desire for conquest or profit, missionary fervor or a thirst for adventure, explored the continent. Africa became a magnet for adventurers and scientists, opportunists and humanitarians. By the late 1800s, much of Africa had been mapped, giving European nations a foothold for imperialism, while uncovering a world largely unknown to science.

The compelling images that emerged from this time tell the story of Africa as it was first seen by Western eyes, and the impact it had on a fascinated public.

Smithsonian Institution Libraries