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Dark Crossings: Automobility, Nature, and the Mapping of African Empire before 1930

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Abstract:

This paper takes as its subject three European attempts to traverse Africa by automobile: a former German colonial officer drove from Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) to Swakopmund (Namibia) between 1907 and 1909; the French car manufacturer Citroën sponsored the Croisière noire (“Black Crossing”) expedition from 1924-25, which saw a convoy of automobiles depart Algeria in a southeasterly direction with destinations in South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique; and a privately-organized “Cape to Cairo” expedition undertaken by a group of Britons from 1924-26. As these three expeditions indicate, the vastness of the African continent made it a tempting target for _auto-mobile_ adventurers in the early twentieth century.
I use the narrative accounts of these expeditions to examine how the automobile mediated the European relationship to the African environment. I argue that the perception of Africa from behind the wheel produced paradoxical attitudes towards African landscapes and peoples. On the one hand, these expeditions were a conquest of nature, with the automobile serving as a vector of civilization. By tracing straight lines through “primeval” African landscapes, European adventurers sought to discipline and rationalize the continent (and its “uncivilized” inhabitants) as part of a civilizing mission to bring Africa into the age of modernity. Simultaneously, however, their ambitious plans often collapsed in the face of Africa’s vast spaces and natural obstacles. In the process of attempting to conquer Africa in the name of civilization, the leaders of these expeditions elaborated a schizophrenic understanding of the African environment, perceiving the continent as a land of plenty, needing only order and modern technology to render it productive. Simultaneously, however, they developed a deep respect for and fear of the power of nature to overwhelm the ambitious plans of European empires and the most advanced technologies of the modern world.
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Name: ASEH Conference – San Francisco
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679513_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Denning, Andrew. "Dark Crossings: Automobility, Nature, and the Mapping of African Empire before 1930" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679513_index.html>

APA Citation:

Denning, A. "Dark Crossings: Automobility, Nature, and the Mapping of African Empire before 1930" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Conference – San Francisco, Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, San Francisco, California <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p679513_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: This paper takes as its subject three European attempts to traverse Africa by automobile: a former German colonial officer drove from Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) to Swakopmund (Namibia) between 1907 and 1909; the French car manufacturer Citroën sponsored the Croisière noire (“Black Crossing”) expedition from 1924-25, which saw a convoy of automobiles depart Algeria in a southeasterly direction with destinations in South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique; and a privately-organized “Cape to Cairo” expedition undertaken by a group of Britons from 1924-26. As these three expeditions indicate, the vastness of the African continent made it a tempting target for _auto-mobile_ adventurers in the early twentieth century.
I use the narrative accounts of these expeditions to examine how the automobile mediated the European relationship to the African environment. I argue that the perception of Africa from behind the wheel produced paradoxical attitudes towards African landscapes and peoples. On the one hand, these expeditions were a conquest of nature, with the automobile serving as a vector of civilization. By tracing straight lines through “primeval” African landscapes, European adventurers sought to discipline and rationalize the continent (and its “uncivilized” inhabitants) as part of a civilizing mission to bring Africa into the age of modernity. Simultaneously, however, their ambitious plans often collapsed in the face of Africa’s vast spaces and natural obstacles. In the process of attempting to conquer Africa in the name of civilization, the leaders of these expeditions elaborated a schizophrenic understanding of the African environment, perceiving the continent as a land of plenty, needing only order and modern technology to render it productive. Simultaneously, however, they developed a deep respect for and fear of the power of nature to overwhelm the ambitious plans of European empires and the most advanced technologies of the modern world.


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