It isn’t mine to start with. But somehow it belonged in our current study-room and because we both have an interest in the African continent it was not to be taken away. It seems interesting and maybe even ‘intellectual’ or ‘rustic’ to have a continental atlas hanging in the study-room. But the map is not accurate, it’s outdated and the sizes are out of proportion. Of course it is outdated, the atlas dates back to 1955 when most African countries where still colonized. What can a outdated atlas tell us about the history and maybe even the (that time current) perception?

Looking closely you can see some recognizable border outlines, but surely see that there are not 54 countries, and names of certain cities have changed and only three locations are presented with potential airports. Three airports for a whole continent seems inaccurate, even for 1955, but it does present an image of an ‘un-travel-able’ continent. The perception of a continent one would rather not want to travel to might be accurate for the concerning year. Also to note, concerning the image of the continent, the overall color of the continent is a sand-like light brown perceiving as if the Sahara spread out throughout the continent, adding on the hardship of travelling to the continent. It is interesting to see what an image can interpret, and the language it sets for the one seeing this. If I could place myself to 1955 (imagining my parents at the age of 2) and seeing an atlas like this, I wouldn’t think much of the African continent. It seems too big and too dry and abandoned. Nevertheless, these observations can be interpreted differently by anyone looking closely, or even vaguely, not letting out any possible observations.




If one looks closely at the atlas he/she will find certain city names that are not of use to this date. This indicates the outdated factor of the atlas but also the history. Kinshasa was once called Leopoldville and Kilimi Ndjaro was the Dutch was of writing and pronouncing Kilimanjaro. Rwenzori is indicated as the capital of a combination of Rwanda, Uganda and Bujumbura (this last comment is debatable as the borders are not in correspondence with the current independent borders). Rwenzori is a mountain range in-between Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, or also known as the bottled water from Uganda.

Looking closely to the border outline of DRC one can see ‘Stanleystad’. Stad is Dutch for city and would be, in French (colonial language), Stanleyville, currently Kisangani. Another major city in the DRC, Lubumbashi, is named Elisabethstad (Elisabethville) and Costermandstad (Costermandville) is now Bukavu, all major cities of DRC. It is insightful to see how these names have changed after the decolonization and that lakes such as, Lake Albert and Lake Victoria have kept their colonial given names. Stanleyville might not exist today but Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori mountains is still of existence. Would city names be more of importance compared to a lake?

One final fault I cannot-not see, is the way Spain is proportioned towards the continent. Very practical, but take the size of Portugal and Spain and place it on Ethiopia’s outlined border. It is a perfect fit if you compare it to what the atlas is showing. But realistically it is not. Spain and Portugal take approximately 600,000km2 whilst Ethiopia takes about 1,100,000km2 of land. Technically the way Spain and Portugal are portrayed twice their size or the presented African countries are half their size. The problem that countries or continent are not to the accurate proportion is of current relevance, as many world atlases increase proportions of certain Western countries whilst not being accurate. Nevertheless that is an analysis concerning geographical world proportions. Yet, returning to the previously stated image of seeing this atlas in 1955 and concentrating on the proportion of Spain and Portugal compared to Ethiopia. I would doubt that one would find the inaccuracy as well as the idea of one big-desert-like continent would not fall (even though Spain and Portugal are the same size as Ethiopia and might therefore be perceived as small/little).

Time has changed, we live in a different era and that is seen through the changes of the continental atlas. Cities names have changed, country borders have been changed and added and the continent is not one big desert. This atlas present the perception of the African continent in 1955, where colonization was still at place and most people, in the Netherlands, didn’t know much about the landscape or countries actual sizes. It is interesting to see the inaccuracy and to understand the historical perspective presented through an atlas and to not just see it as an ‘old/ outdated’ object but as a historical presentation.

The 1955 atlas still hangs in the study-room but if we get a new atlas, when will that one become outdated as well?



Countries Compared by Geography Land area Sq. km. International Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2020, from