The Art of African Exploration at The Smithsonian

Sir Richard Francis Burton. Illustrations (sketches and drawings) from his many book documenting his explorations of the African continent in the 19th century. Some of these from Zanzibar: City, Island, and Coast.

Artistic skill was an important tool in an explorer’s kit in the days before modern photography. Expeditions to Africa often included an artist to record the landscapes, wildlife, and peoples encountered on the journey.

In 1854 the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London advised travelers to carry everything from a sextant and compass to drawing materials and paints. The traveler’s goal was to make “imperfectly known countries” better known. Recording their observations through sketches, journals, and maps was an essential part of the journey.

Drawing upon his experiences in Africa, scientist Francis Galton expanded on the RGS’s advice with a wealth of practical tips in his book The Art of Travel (1855). The book proved popular with armchair travelers and seasoned explorers alike. The intrepid British explorer and scholar Sir Richard Francis Burton carried a copy during his own travels in Africa.

Quotation and Description of Page.

The address of African Exploration Images is http://www.sil.si.edu/exhibitions/ArtofAfricanExploration/travel.cfm

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I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.