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Collection of cartographic data

Oppenheim’s interest in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire not infrequently led him to remote areas where no other European had yet been seen. The careful planning for these journeys and their course are documented by records of the team accompanying him which included secretaries, architects, photographers, Bedouin guides, and soldiers or gendarmes who were always armed to protect the caravan.

Photo: Research before departure, Arban 1912

Research in Retrospect

Oppenheim described these early expeditions with the following words: “On the caravans, I rode in step with watch and compass, because in the saddle I could note estimates of the distances, the smallest change in the route we took, and all the localities we passed. It doesn’t take long to become versed in determining distances, even if is necessary to discuss them with the guides. At every stop, whether short or long, entries were made in the diary which I kept by me, in the saddle […] At the campsites and underway, readings were made, when possible from an elevated position, with a surveyor’s table, taking care that the bearings crossed to produce a fixed grid. The Arab secretary and the guides assisted. With their help the names – Kurdish and Turkish, as well as Arabic – of places and features of the landscape could be determined and recorded simultaneously in Arabic and French. This was the only way to overcome the idiosyncrasies of written Arabic and the discrepancy between the script and the spoken language, thereby avoiding the errors which characterize previous maps with names that are so corrupted that they can hardly be recognized.”

On the basis of the data compiled by Oppenheim during his first expedition in 1893, Richard Kiepert drafted new maps of Syria and Mesopotamia which were published by the renowned publishing house of Justus Perthes, Gotha, foremost in the field of cartography. The results of Oppenheim’s research appeared in “Dr. A. Petermanns Mitteilungen aus Justus Perthes geographischer Anstalt,” then one of the most important German geographical journals.

Map of Oppenheim's route, 1893