I speak of Africa
The first day the Yam Custom as depicted in Thomas Edward Bowdich's Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee: with a statistical account of that kingdom and geographical notices of other parts of the interior of Africa. London: John Murray, 1819 [FCO Historical Collection DT507 BOW] ‘I speak of Africa and golden joys’: Shakespeare’s words evoke Europe’s centuries-old fascination with Africa as a land of marvels and riches, and it was the ‘golden joys’ of Africa – its riches of gold and ivory – that initially led the European explorers and traders, searching for a maritime route to the wealth of the Indies, to establish relations with the kingdoms of the African coast. Yet it was not long before the relationship between Europe and Africa was darkened by the Atlantic slave trade, a trade which lasted for 350 years and resulted in an estimated ten million Africans being shipped to the Americas as slaves.
Drawing largely on the holdings of the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, transferred to King’s College London in 2007, this exhibition explores, through five centuries of written accounts and visual representations, the changing nature of the European encounter with sub-Saharan Africa. It traces the course of that encounter, from the establishment of the early coastal trading posts by the Portuguese, through the dark days of the Atlantic slave trade and the mixed fortunes of the post-emancipation settlements of Sierra Leone and Liberia, to the journeys of the great nineteenth century explorers of the African interior and the subsequent ‘scramble for Africa’ by the European imperial powers. A range of contemporary material brings to life the period when European colonial rule prevailed over most of sub-Saharan Africa and testifies to the continuing European fascination with the geography, natural history and peoples of the African continent.
All items in this exhibition are from the collections of the Foyle Special Collections Library and, when not on display, are available for consultation there.
Exhibition curators: Iris O’Brien and Katie Sambrook
In this exhibition
- First European encounters
- Slavery and anti-slavery
- Towards emancipation
- South Africa: early European settlement
- South Africa: diamonds, gold and bloodshed
- Interior exploration of Africa
- The scramble for Africa
- Africa under European rule
- I speak of Africa
- Select bibliography