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Project information

Project team

Heinz Peter Brogiato, Konrad Großer, Bruno Schelhaas, Ute Wardenga


FU Berlin, Tel-Hai Academic College (Israel), Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Middlebury College (USA), Universität Leipzig, TU Dresden, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Universität Bayreuth, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Forschungsbibliothek Gotha

Duration of project

07/2007 – 06/2009

Funded by

Fritz Thyssen Foundation

Further information

Bruno Schelhaas
Tel.: +49 341 600 55-151

Mapping the world

The publishing house of Justus Perthes in Gotha in the “Petermann Era”

The project’s goal is the historical analysis of the social and technical process of cartography in the “Petermann Era”. August Petermann and the publishing house Justus Perthes in Gotha are for several reasons an excellent object of research: Gotha was an international hub of scientific and popular geography in the 19th century. Gifted organiser August Petermann and the journal “Petermanns Mitteilungen” brought to perfection a system of exploiting and visualising information. The hereby developed map semiotics was essential for the scientific and economic success of the Perthes publishing house, with far-reaching repercussions on the history of ideas and science in the 20th and 21th centuries.

The project’s focus is on the complex negotiation processes of map production, from data collecting of explorers to the published map, as well as the actors involved in that. Drawing upon more recent findings of the historiography of science, the project was to exemplify the knowledge transfer and, as a result from it, cartographic visualisations of Africa cartography in the first 30 volumes of “Petermanns Mitteilungen”.


The project has contributed to gaining the first strongly source-based insight into the process of map production in the Perthes publishing house between 1855 and 1884. Hereby, the practices of producing maps, which research had so far treated as a black box, could be opened up as a new field of research; they could be given shape and introduced into the discussion of international and interdisciplinary research.

For the era of pre-academic geography, the opening of that black box has brought to light astonishing findings regarding a knowledge production governed by economic criteria; and it has made clear the, compared to later periods of the discipline’s history, considerably more international character of geographical research. It has furthermore provided strong indications of a specific habitus that started to emerge already long before the academisation of the discipline. This habitus developed through the practice of map-making and the visual constitution of the object of research; and even in its cognitive schemas configured later it could not disavow its originating from a research practice strongly inspired and controlled by Gotha.

Schelhaas, Bruno / Wardenga, Ute (2011): „Inzwischen spricht die Karte für sich selbst“. Transformation von Wissen im Prozess der Kartenproduktion. In: Siegel, Steffen / Weigel, Petra (Hrsg.): Die Werkstatt des Kartographen. Materialien und Praktiken visueller Welterzeugung. München: Fink, S. 89–107. (Laboratorium Aufklärung; 9)

Schelhaas, Bruno (2009): Das „Wiederkehren des Fragezeichens in der Karte“. Gothaer Kartenproduktion im 19. Jahrhundert. In: Geographische Zeitschrift 97 (4), S. 227–242

Schelhaas, Bruno (2009): „… die vielgenannte terra icognita endlich einmal enthüllt vor Augen“. Die Gothaer Afrikakartographie und der geographische Wissenstransfer im 19. Jahrhundert. In: Mätzing, Heike Christina / Henry, Roderich (Hrsg.): Die Macht der Karten oder was man mit Karten machen kann. Berlin und Braunschweig, S. 5

Schelhaas, Bruno / Wardenga, Ute (2007): „Die Hauptresultate der Reisen vor die Augen zu bringen“ oder: Wie man Welt mittels Karten sichtbar macht. In: Berndt, Christian / Pütz, Robert (Hrsg.): Kulturelle Geographien. Zur Beschäftigung mit Raum und Ort nach dem Cultural Turn. Bielefeld: transcript, S. 143–166 (Kultur und Soziale Praxis)