Author’s response to book review

March 5th, 2012, Published in Articles: PositionIT

Prof. Elri Liebenberg’s review of Mapping South Africa was forwarded to the author, Andrew Duminy. Outlined below is his response to the review.


Andrew Duminy

Prof. Liebenberg takes me to task for neglecting to include a number of developments in the history of mapping. What to include in and what to exclude from a book is a problem all authors face, especially those like me preparing a short, popular survey of a vast subject. I am sure that ten different authors would write ten different accounts of the subject, all with differing emphases. I look forward to seeing these topics dealt with by Prof. Liebenberg in the book I hope she may yet publish on the history of South African maps.

Like Prof. Liebenberg, I regret that in a number of instances the maps had to be reduced in size to fit on the page (though I doubt whether most general readers would be interested in the reason she gives for wanting greater legibility, i.e. so as to discern between different printing and production techniques). In all illustrated books there is a trade-off between size and cost. A much larger format would no doubt have enhanced legibility but it would have made the book unaffordable to the general reader.

It is perfectly acceptable for non-academic books of this kind to dispense with footnotes and endnotes. I dispute the claim that the book has “no decent bibliography”. There are in fact three pages in small type of “Further reading” which list, by chapter, all the major sources consulted by me, amounting to more than 75 articles, books and papers. This was done intentionally as I did not want to create the impression that the book was aimed only at specialists.

Prof. Liebenberg lists a string of errors that I am allegedly guilty of. While I admit that I have made some mistakes, I do not believe they are as numerous as she claims. Moreover, the presence of some mistakes (though to be regretted) does not invalidate an entire book. In fact, I disagree with some of Prof. Liebenberg’s claims.

For instance, she says that “the author infers that Valentyn had copied his map from Kolbe” and that this is “not correct as it was Kolbe who copied from Valentyn”. In the book I simply state (on p. 26 and caption on p. 25) that “Valentyn’s map is very similar to Kolbe’s”. The inference is Prof. Liebenberg’s, not mine.

She writes that the map on p. 45 is incorrectly identified “as one made by James Carmichael Smyth”. This is a disingenuous claim, for in the main body of the text on p. 46 I explain at some length that the map, published by John Arrowsmith in 1805, was “dedicated” to Smyth, who “furnished many of the materials”’. She ignores this and refers only to the caption on p. 45, where I use a pardonable abbreviation to refer to the map. This caption should obviously be read in the context of the main body of the text.

She says that on p. 66 Henry Hall is incorrectly described as “a Royal Engineer”. He is in fact described on the page as “a member of the Royal Engineers”. This information was drawn from Prof. Liebenberg’s own article on Henry Hall, where she writes: “In 1839, after having worked for a builder’s firm for nine years, he entered the Government Service as Foreman of Works in the Royal Engineer Department … In 1858 he was promoted to the rank of Clerk of Works of the first class after which his designation was ‘Clerk in charge of the Royal Engineer Department’.”

She says that my account of the cartography of the Transvaal is “riddled with errors” and then lists only one. She objects to the statement (on p. 112) that the survey of the arc of the 30th meridian was completed “with the help of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey” and notes that it was the US Army Map Service that assisted. That is strictly so, but the article by J.R. Smith on “The Arc of the 30th Meridian North of Equator” states that “the majority of the US party were US Coast and Geodetic Survey personnel”.

Prof. Liebenberg also makes reference to a fuller list of alleged errors which she and her team of self-appointed experts have drawn up. A request that I be allowed to see this full list was met with this puzzling reply: “I am afraid I cannot disclose the contents of the list as it constitutes the intellectual property of the relevant authors. The specialised knowledge imparted in the list is grounded in research which is either completed or still ongoing, and of which the integrity cannot be compromised.”

Whatever the errors I have made, I do not believe Prof. Liebenberg is entitled to dismiss the entire book as without any value. A book is not a mere sequence of facts or details, and does not stand or fall solely by their accuracy. This is not to deny the importance of factual correctness, but I’d argue that a book is as much about argument, insight, understanding, interpretation, historical imagination, and many more things as about facts. And about these and other elements of my book, Prof. Liebenberg is silent.

I leave it to my readers to decide on the merits of my book.

Andrew Duminy