Africa was one of the first continents charted by European cartographers, particularly in the northern region and along the coastal outline. Some early maps, including those from Ptolemaic atlases and the map of world made by al-Idrisi in 1154, showed Africa as uncircumnavigable, prior to the voyage of Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 to the Cape of Good Hope. Other early maps of Africa show the entire continent, with some illustrations of the landscape. However, mapping the interior did not begin in earnest until after World War II.
The only collection related specifically to Africa comprises maps acquired with the records of the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization that assisted Black Americans in settling in Liberia during the nineteenth century. This movement was proposed at the time as a solution to the perceived problem of free African Americans living in the United States after the Revolutionary War. The high number of slaveholding members in the ACS raised suspicion regarding the society's motives, as well as the willingness of its participants, some of whom were given the choice of emigration or continued enslavement. Other participants, however, believed they would have greater opportunities migrating to Africa than continuing to face racism in the United States.
The collection, Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870, includes maps of early settlements and indigenous political districts. It also contains a map thought to be by Benjamin Anderson, the Black American explorer. Anderson traveled to the interior of Liberia along the Saint Paul River in 1868 and published a report of his notes on the local culture and natural resources. He made a second journey in 1874.
The division also contains maps of other colonial holdings, including maps created by colonial powers for military purposes.