Representing a new Portuguese Empire in Africa: the Cartography Commission and the Portuguese Scramble for Africa, 1883–1891

Daniel Gamito-Marques

Keywords: cartography; colonial science; geographical societies; Third Portuguese Empire; Scramble for Africa

Participation: presential

The purpose of this communication is to discuss how geography and cartography were utilized to defend Portugal’s colonial claims in Africa by constructing visual representations of a new Portuguese Empire in the late nineteenth century, thus reinforcing its identity as an imperial nation. In 1883, a Cartography Commission was founded in the Portuguese Ministry of the Navy and Overseas Territories. Its main aim was to coordinate the production of cartography relative to the Portuguese Empire, most notably Africa, in order to generate useful knowledge for the definition of the country’s colonial policy. The Commission was founded by the Minister himself, J. V. Barbosa du Bocage (1823–1907), zoologist and director of the Zoological Section of the National Museum of Lisbon. The Cartography Commission was dominated by military men with technoscientific expertise, who engaged in the production of different types of maps of various regions of Africa. Such representations served multiple ends, from plain colonial propaganda to international negotiation of areas of influence in contested colonial territories. They formed the first visual representations of a new Portuguese Empire in Africa, which stood as a symbol of power that aimed to protect the sovereignty of the small Portuguese nation in a Europe increasingly dominated by vaster and stronger states. In this communication I will discuss how these maps were produced, the meanings they encapsulated, and how they were used until 1891, when the borders of Portugal’s main colonial territories in continental Africa, Angola and Mozambique, were generally established.


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Daniel Gamito-Marques is a historian of science working as a Research Fellow at the Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology (CIUHCT), NOVA University of Lisbon. During his PhD in History of Science, he researched the foundation and consolidation of the first natural history museum in Lisbon. His current project analyzes how science and diplomacy served colonial politics during the Portuguese Scramble for Africa. He is a member of the H2020 “Inventing a shared Science Diplomacy for Europe” (InsSciDE) project and of the international Commission on Science, Technology, and Diplomacy (STAND) of the IUHPST/DHST. He has published in journals such as Isis, History of Science, and the Journal of the History of Biology. He is also a published playwright interested in using historical knowledge of the sciences in the performing arts and science education.