Heinrich Barth (1821-65) A Geographer, Historian, Archaeologist and Linguist, Heinrich Barth Is Remembered for His Valuable Studies on Previously Unknown Regions of North and Central Africa

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What was his background?

Heinrich Barth was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1821, and studied history, archaeology and geography, among other subjects, in Berlin. After completing his doctorate, he travelled in the Mediterranean and across North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt.

Why is he famous?

Barth is best known for his part in a British expedition to Central Africa. Led by James Richardson and accompanied by Adolf Overweg, Barth set off from Tripoli towards Lake Chad in 1849. But after the deaths of Richardson, in 1851, and Overweg, in 1852, Barth was left to carry on alone. The British government had hoped that the expedition would bring about closer relations with the states of central and western Sudan, put a stop to the slave trade in the Sahara and carry out scientific studies. However, Barth had his own agenda. He travelled for five years, covering 20,000 kilometres, fascinated by the environment and people he came across He subsequently published an account of his journey, Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa. The book is still regarded as a masterpiece of narrative and geographical research and is considered one of the greatest 19th-century African studies.

How did he differ from other explorers of the period?

At a time when explorers were driven by goals such as finding the source of the Nile or the existence of great lakes, Barth was interested primarily in the landscape and how it shaped its inhabitants. He was willing to accept other cultures and ways of life as they were and was especially cynical of the European influence in Africa. Indeed, he hoped that European colonial powers would eventually be driven out of Africa. …

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