Primary Source

Photograph of "Principal Chiefs" from West Africa

Photograph of a group of men posing. Description in annotation.


The following is an image that appears in the on page 296 in the book Britain Across The Seas: Africa; A History And Description Of The British Empire In Africa published in 1910 and written by Harry Johnson. This particular photograph was taken by Capt. T.C. Hincks. With only a brief annotation it is hard to tell what context this photograph was taken in or what groups these chiefs were representing and why they were all gathered together, however, the photograph does yield some information. When you first view the photograph, you might notice the various styles of dress of the indigenous population’s chiefs. How might this be a reflection of the time period the photograph was taken in? This could reflect on the different styles of dress of different tribes as well as the influence of the British. Considering that when this was published it was a widely read although now largely forgotten book, how might this influence the readers perception of the indigenous populations that were featured in the book. It is important to also remember the roles that the authors and photographers have in shaping that view. This might include how the photographer poses the individuals in the pictures or the narrative that the author surrounds the images with. For example, the narrative paints the indigenous populations as better off or more enlightened under the rule of the British. They were backward and savages before. There are also clearly favored tribes depicted better than others which might have been a result of how the tribes were viewed in Johnson’s time. How do images such as these reinforce or not reinforce those narratives and provide justifications for colonialism?  Considering all of this information and viewing the photograph a historian might began to understand how readers viewed the British Empire in Africa or at least how the author wanted the readers to view it. They might also consider how readers today might view these images and why perceptions have and have not changed. 

This source is a part of the Analyzing Travel Records methods module.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "Group of principal Chiefs: Navoro: Northern territories: Gold Coast." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 2, 2022.

How to Cite This Source

"Photograph of "Principal Chiefs" from West Africa," in World History Commons, [accessed February 21, 2024]