Heinrich Barth and Geography
The Petermann map of Africa before and after Barth's great journey
Heinrich Barth's journey took place at a time when European geographers were preoccupied with the quest for the sources of the Nile and the question of the existence of a great lakes area in Africa or snow-covered mountains below the Equator. Barth, however, was interested primarily in finding out how a landscape shaped its inhabitants and their way of life, a concern still at the heart of cultural-ecological research today. Barth's focus then was on geomorphology, the study ofclimate and hydrography as well as patterns of human settlement and economic and transport geography. Many of the regions he travelled through were unknown to contemporary European scholars and it was only with the help of his detailed maps and itineraries that great white expanses on the Petermann maps of Africa could be filled in and the topography described. It was Barth's achievement to have written the first scientific account of large parts of what is now the Republic of the Niger, Nigeria, Southern Chad and North Cameroon.
"Der Leser wird, auch ohne daß ich es hier ausspreche, bald meine Art der Anschauung wahrnehmen. Es ist der historische Zusammenhang des Menschen mit der reichen Gliederung der Erdoberfläche." (Barth 1857, I: XVII)