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Landscape, exploration and empire in southern Africa, 1780–1870
Author: John McAleer

Southern Africa played a varied but vital role in Britain's maritime and imperial stories. The region was one of the most intricate pieces in the British imperial strategic jigsaw, and representations of southern African landscape and maritime spaces reflect its multifaceted position. This book examines the ways in which British travellers, explorers and artists viewed southern Africa in a period of evolving and expanding British interest in the region. Cape Town occupied in the visual and cultural understanding of British people in the 1760s. It is a representation of southern Africa. The book presents a study that examines and contextualises such representations of southern African landscapes, seascapes and settlements by British officials, travellers and artists. It interrogates how and why these descriptions and depictions came about, as well as the role they played in the British imagining and understanding of southern African spaces. The focus is on a period of evolving and expanding British interest and intervention in southern Africa, its impact on peoples and their environs, and the expression in contemporary landscape and seascape representation. British formal control at the Cape of Good Hope brought European aesthetic frameworks to bear on the viewing of landscapes. Exploration and imperialism were defining features of the British experience in southern Africa. Drawing on a wide range of archival sources, contemporary travelogues and visual images, the book posits landscape as a useful prism through which to view changing British attitudes towards Africa.

John McAleer

The history of missionary and migration movements in southern Africa illustrates a concern with presenting the landscape that answered specific needs or followed well-defined patterns of representation. In this way, landscape spaces responded to local, professional or political needs and were co-opted to articulate specific views to British-based audiences. The historiographies of British imperialism and British overseas missionary activity have frequently followed parallel paths'. Throughout the corpus of missionary letters and memoirs, a major emphasis was placed on productive labour in the landscape. It became the litmus test of a civilised society. The missionary station was seen as a potential inspiration to indigenous Africans. It could guide them in the paths of religion and industry. One of the most obvious impacts of the introduction of Christianity on southern African landscape spaces was the construction of church buildings.

in Representing Africa
John McAleer

This chapter discusses how constructions of landscape spaces were deeply informed by a prevailing interest in scientific representations. At a basic level, the recording of landscape spaces, their topographical characteristics, and botanical and zoological inhabitants contributed to greater scientific knowledge. The map-making impulse had long associations with travellers and provided a bridge between apparently objective renditions of landscape spaces and representations laden with other significances. Mapping was not necessarily confined to landscape spaces; seas and coasts could also furnish vital information which could be used in furthering the processes of strategic planning and colonial settlement. William Hodges's View of Table Mountain from Table Bay is an important example of British scientific curiosity being co-opted to record the reality of the landscape spaces of southern Africa. Books of travel became popular points of reference for the domestic and colonial audiences who had access to them.

in Representing Africa
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John McAleer

This chapter presents examples to illustrate what Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow have identified as the viewing of Africa as a 'land in amber' and a place of spiritual refreshment. Southern and eastern African landscapes were increasingly identified as arenas for hunting towards the end of the nineteenth century. The landscape of Africa was perceived as uncorrupted by the taint of human involvement. Henry Butler's ambivalent attitude to the change that he experienced within the space of a few months' travel was replicated in others' opinions of Africa, its landscapes and peoples. Links between hunting and imperial power are clearly much more complicated than a simple inverse proportional relationship, but the effects of exploration and empire had major and lasting consequences for the landscapes and fauna of southern Africa. Free from the hierarchies, restraints and social customs of Britain, the wide-open spaces of empire promised what was denied in Europe.

in Representing Africa
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John McAleer

The book shows how changing patterns of exploration in southern Africa and evolving British imperial concerns were closely entwined and how, consequently, they affected the ways in which British travellers engaged with non-European landscapes. It describes different ways to present views, visions and descriptions of Africa to a diverse range of audiences. The association that subsisted between the representation of landscapes in southern Africa and the European, particularly British, engagement with physical spaces in the region was informed by changing political, social and strategic circumstances. The creation of ideas about African landscapes and their representation never occurred in a vacuum. Images, descriptions and accounts carried implications beyond the facts of topography or geography. Both physically and intellectually, landscapes were shaped by Europeans through their presentation in word, image and collections; in turn, these spaces moulded those Europeans who chose to live and move in them.

in Representing Africa
John McAleer

This chapter examines one of the lesser-known aspects of Thomas Baines's career, that of curator. Even before his curatorial career took off at King's Lynn, Baines would have been familiar with the display of African objects in South Africa. The decision to inaugurate the King's Lynn Athenaeum with an exhibition neatly encapsulates some of the reasons for the flowering of museums in nineteenth-century Britain. Through his art, his travels and their translation in his curatorial practice then, Baines brought 'views' of Africa (sometimes literally) to Britain. Baines did something similar with the display of material culture and its interpretation for the people of nineteenth-century Norfolk. Three-dimensional objects, interpretive strategies and old-fashioned curatorial 'making-do' had an impact on his presentation of the wider world to the people of west Norfolk.

in Curating empire
Captain Cook, voyages of exploration and the culture of display
John McAleer

This chapter attempts to show how physical artefacts two-dimensional print and images, as well as three-dimensional material culture contributed to that phenomenon by exhibiting exploration and empire to people in Britain at the time. It seeks to demonstrate the various ways in which visual and material information relating to eighteenth-century voyages of exploration principally those of James Cook circulated among the general public in Britain. The chapter shows how the display and exhibition of material culture helped to shape public discourse about the purpose, value and results of these expeditions. The contemporary collecting, exhibiting and interpreting of information and objects derived from eighteenth-century voyages of exploration occurred at a time when British responses to the rest of the world were being rapidly forged and reshaped. The enduring appeal of objects, exhibitions and displays relating to Cook, up to the present day, demonstrates the long-lasting impact of these voyages.

in Exhibiting the empire
John McAleer

To understand why aesthetic formulations came to be important in determining responses to landscape features in southern Africa, it is useful to consider how it has been understood by art historians. The discursive and descriptive parameters within which colonial landscape scenes were represented were defined by pre-existing knowledge. This was achieved by using a familiar aesthetic language in transcribing landscape scenes and topographical views. By using the landscapes of home as comparative yardsticks, artists, authors and travellers located the diverse range of southern African landscapes within European terms of reference. As a canonical picturesque convention, the idea of framing the view was a means of locating and limiting other environments and landscapes within physical and epistemological boundaries. The sublime was a crucial representational strategy in the European envisaging of landscapes in southern Africa.

in Representing Africa
Landscapes of convenience
John McAleer

This chapter describes the evolution of the representation of the 'landscape of convenience'. Debates surrounding the utility and value of the landscape and topography of the region had already entered British political and cultural consciousness. While the Portuguese largely ignored or avoided the landscape of the Cape, preferring to sailpast it, the Dutch recognised the inherent potential of the region. Despite the East India Company's reluctance to sanction trading activities in the region, it still required some place of recuperation for its outward- and homeward-bound vessels. In the nineteenth century, when formal British control at the Cape had been confirmed, the prospect of using the colony as a penal settlement resurfaced. Britain's acquisition of the Cape of Good Hope ended 143 years of VOC rule and changed the character of European involvement in southern Africa.

in Representing Africa
John McAleer

This chapter builds upon the work of scholars who have recognised the power of landscape and its representation to bring together economic, social, political and aesthetic values, alloying them in complex and interconnected ways. It deals, in general, with the written records, both published and unpublished, left by a variety of people associated with the British social, scientific and political engagement with southern Africa. The chapter assesses more accurately the modes and means of representing southern African landscape. However, it is useful to reflect on how and why the acts of representation took place and the roles that they fulfilled in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for both travellers and audiences alike. One of the aspects of visual culture that accorded closely with travellers' experiences of landscape was the act of creating maps. Many of the descriptions analysed in this chapter were circulated in the context of travel writing.

in Representing Africa