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I speak of Africa

The partition of Africa

Map showing European possessions in Africa c. 1895, from: John Scott Keltie. The partition of Africa. Second edition. London: Edward Stanford, 1895 [Miscellaneous Collection DT31.K2E95]Map showing European possessions in Africa c. 1895, from: John Scott Keltie. The partition of Africa. Second edition. London: Edward Stanford, 1895 [Miscellaneous Collection DT31.K2E95]This book by Sir John Scott Keltie (1840-1927) was the first comprehensive account of the partition of Africa, describing in detail how the different European states obtained possessions on the African continent.

First published in 1893, it was written while the ‘scramble for Africa’ was still in progress. Very much an expression of the period in which it was written, the book does not always make for easy reading with modern readers; Keltie describes his subject as ‘one of the most remarkable episodes in history,’ namely ‘the bulk of the one barbarous continent [being] parcelled out among the most civilised Powers of Europe’. Keltie was helped in the writing of the book by such eminent authorities as Sir George Taubman Goldie (1846–1925), founder of the National African Company, later the Royal Niger Company, which controlled the administration of the Niger territories, and George Sutherland Mackenzie (1844–1910), director of the Imperial British East Africa Company.

The map on display shows the European possessions in Africa after the Berlin West Africa Conference of 1885. The importance of the Berlin West Africa Conference, which took place from 15 November 1884 to 26 February 1885 is still a question of debate among historians. However, it is now generally accepted that the conference did not represent the starting point for the scramble nor was its intention to divide up the continent among the European powers. Nevertheless, several bilateral agreements regarding the boundaries in West Africa were agreed upon in Berlin, though not at the conference itself. According to the historian John D. Hargreaves, ‘the conference was largely intended to define, and limit, the effects of the scrambling on European relationships’.

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