Heinrich Barth (February 16 1821 – November 25, 1865) was a
German explorer and scholar of Africa.
born in Hamburg and educated
University, where he
graduated in 1844. He had already visited Italy and Sicily and had formed a plan to journey through the
Mediterranean countries. After studying Arabic in London he set out
on his travels in 1845.
He acted for the British Foreign
Office in 1850. Barth is one of the greatest of the European
explorers of Africa - not necessarily because of the length of his
travels (1850-1855) or the time he spent alone without European
company in Africa, but because of his singular character.
Tangier Barth made his way overland throughout the length
of North Africa. He also travelled
through Egypt, ascending
the Nile to Wadi Halfa and crossing the desert to Berenice.
While in Egypt he was attacked and wounded
by robbers. Crossing the Sinai peninsula he traversed Palestine,
Minor, Turkey and Greece, everywhere
examining the remains of antiquity; and returned to Berlin in
For a time he was engaged there as Privatdozent,
and in preparing for
publication the narrative of his Wanderungen durch die
Küstenländer des Mittelmeeres
, which appeared in 1849.
At the instance of Bunsen, the Prussian
ambassador to Westminster, and other scientists like Alexander von Humboldt
, Barth, and
, a Prussian astronomer,
were appointed colleagues of James
, an explorer of the Sahara
had been selected by the British government to open up commercial
relations with the states of the central and western Sudan
. The party left Tripoli early in
1850, but the deaths of Richardson (March 1851) and Overweg
(September 1852) left Barth to carry on the mission alone.
Dr. Barth was the first European
in 1851. He returned to Europe
in September 1855.
addition to journeys across the Sahara, Barth traversed the country
Chad and Bagirmi on the east to
Timbuktu (September 1853) on the west and Cameroon on the south.
He studied minutely the
, civilizations, languages and resources of
the countries he visited.
His success as an explorer and historian of Africa was based both
on his patient character and his scholarly education. He studied in
the early 1840s at the University of Berlin under the guidance of
scholars such as Alexander von
, Leopold von Ranke
Friedrich von Schelling
, who all laid the
foundations of the human geography and historical research in the
Barth was different from the explorers of the colonial age, because
he was interested in the history and culture of the Africans
peoples, rather than the possibilities to exploit them. He
meticulously documented his observations and his own journal has
becomes as much as an invaluable source for the circumstances of
the 19th century Sudanic Africa. Although Barth was not the first
European visitor who paid attention to the local oral traditions,
he was the first who seriously considered its methodology and
usability for historical research. Barth was the first truly
scholarly traveler in West Africa. Earlier ones such as René Caillié
, Dixon Denham
and Hugh Clapperton
had no academic knowledge.
Barth could read Arabic, and was able to investigate history of
some regions, particularly the Songhay empire. He also seems to
have learned some African
. He established close relations with a number
of African scholars and rulers, from Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi in
Bornu, through the Katsina and Sokoto regions to
Timbuktu, where his friendship with Ahmad al-Bakkay al-Kunti led to his
staying in his house and receiving protection from an attempt to
The story of Barth's travels was
written and published simultaneously in English
, under the title Travels and
Discoveries in North and Central Africa
(1857-1858, 5 vols.,
aprr. 3,500 pages), which was considered one of the finest works of
its kind at the time, appearing in Bibliographies by Darwin
and still cited by African historians,
as it remains the most scientific work on African cultures of the
age and a source for historians of West Africa.
Except a title "CB" (Companion) from the Order of the Bath
, Barth himself received
no formal recognition of his services from the British government.
returned to Germany, where he
prepared a collection of Central African vocabularies (Gotha,
In 1858 he undertook another journey in Asia
Minor, and in 1862 visited the Turkish provinces in Europe.
following year he was granted a professorship of geography (without
chair or regular pay) at Berlin University and president of the Geographical Society.
admission to the Prussian
Academy of Sciences
was denied, as it was claimed that he had
achieved nothing for historiography
and linguistics. Barth died in Berlin. His grave is preserved in
the Protestant Friedhof III der
Jerusalems- und Neuen Kirchengemeinde
the congregations of Jerusalem's
Church and New
Church) in Berlin-Kreuzberg, south of Hallesches Tor.
- Heinrich Barth, Corinthiorum commercii et mercaturae
historiae particula / Beiträge zur Geschichte von Handel und
Handelsverkehr der Korinther, Phil. Diss. 1844 (New edition
with English translation: Africa Explorata. Monographien zur frühen
Erforschung Afrikas 2. Heinrich-Barth-Institut, Cologne 2002, ISBN
3927688215 (with a complete bibliography of writings by and about
Heinrich Barth to 2000)
- Henry Barth,Travels and Discoveries in North and Central
Africa: being a Journal of an Expedition undertaken under the
Auspices of H.B.M.’sGouvernment, in the Years 1849 – 1855 ...
5 volumes. London: Longmans, Green & Co 1857 - 1858
- (US-edition with less pictures) 3 volumes. New York: Harper
& Brothers, 1859 ( Vol. 1) ( Vol. 3).
- Albert Adu Boahen,
Britain, the Sahara and the Western Sudan, 1788-1861.
Oxford: Clarendon, 1964 (with a scholarly account and evaluation of
Barth's expedition and his relations with the British Foreign
- Anthony Kirk-Greene (ed.), Barth's Travels in Nigeria.
London: OUP, 1962 (with an excellent short biography of the
explorer by one of Britain's foremost experts on West Africa)