Maps & Terrain
One of the prerequisites for telling the Adwa story was to understand the lay of the land. Some of my earliest research involved locating reliable contemporary maps as well as historical maps of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The Italians had very good maps and the Italian commander-in-chief Oreste Baratieri had an excellent grasp of topography. This map (above) was reproduced in Baratieri's memoirs. Besides being beautifully drawn and colored, it provides a wealth of information about routes and terrain. This detail (above) shows the area between Massawa, on the Red Sea, Asmara, in the highlands, and Axum and Adwa, in the south.
I also needed reliable reference maps. With the help of librarians in the map collection of the Suzzallo library at the University of Washington, I was able to locate some excellent topographical maps of Ethiopia. These maps (below) dated from the 1970s and were created by Russian cartographers. (The Soviet Union gained influence in Ethiopia after the Derg came to power in 1974.) While these maps from the 1970s have since been surpassed by those produced by the Ethiopian Mapping Authority, they had all the precision I needed.
Although the place names were written in the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian had been one of my languages as an undergraduate and I have retained enough of it to muddle my way through. I referred to these maps as I worked with archival and print sources, along with photos and GPS data I'd gathered in Ethiopia, so that I could understand the terrain intimately. This detail features the town of Mekele, the village of Enda Jesus, and the surrounding basin.
Eventually, I needed maps of my own, maps that I could manipulate. I turned to my son, Anthony Stephen Jonas, who is a pioneer in history and new media and does meticulous work. He created a set of maps of the Adwa battle area, using tones to suggest elevation. These became a precious resource as I translated what the textual record said into graphical language, exploring routes and positions of Italian and Ethiopian forces. I also used these maps to create animations that I use to illustrate lectures on the battle of Adwa.
We tend to think of history as a solo enterprise - there's only one name on the dust jacket - but if you look closely, it's really a team effort.