The most common answer to the question, “Why was Africa called the Dark Continent?” is that Europe did not know much about Africa until the 19th century, but that answer is misleading. Europeans had known quite a lot, but they began ignoring earlier sources of information.
More importantly, the campaign against slavery and missionary work in Africa actually intensified Europeans’ racial ideas about African people in the 1800s.
They called Africa the Dark Continent, because of the mysteries and the savagery they expected to find in the “Interior.
It is true that up until the 19th century, Europeans had little direct knowledge of Africa beyond the coast, but their maps were already filled with details about the continent. African kingdoms had been trading with Middle Eastern and Asian states for over two millennia. Initially, Europeans drew on the maps and reports created by earlier traders and explorers like the famed Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta who traveled across the Sahara and along the North and East coasts of Africa in the 1300s.
During the Enlightenment, however, Europeans developed new standards and tools for mapping, and since they weren’t sure precisely where the lakes, mountains, and cities of Africa were, they began erasing them from popular maps. Many scholarly maps still had more details, but due to the new standards, the European explorers who went to Africa were credited with discovering the mountains, rivers, and kingdoms to which African people guided them.
The maps these explorers created did add to what was known, but they also helped create the myth of the Dark Continent. The phrase itself was actually popularized by the explorer H. M. Stanley, who with an eye to boosting sales titled one of his accounts, Through the Dark Continent, and another, In Darkest Africa.
In the late 1700s, British abolitionists were campaigning hard against slavery. They published pamphlets described the horrid brutality and inhumanity of plantation slavery. One of the most famous images showed a black man in