This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr David Livingstone. He remains one of the best known British explorers of the 19th century, famed for his travels through Africa.
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr David Livingstone. He remains one of the best known British explorers and humanitarian campaigners of the nineteenth century, famed for his extensive travels through Africa, his campaign against the slave trade, and the archival legacy that he left.
As part of the ‘Livingstone 200’ events taking place in the UK, Zambia and Malawi, this exhibition is being presented. This will feature rarely seen archives, photographs, maps and artefacts, brought together for the first time.
Livingstone was and is a controversial figure. In life, he was criticised for his failure to make converts, for being a poor expedition leader and for making crucial strategic and geographical errors. He was also celebrated in his time as an intrepid pioneer, the epitome of self-help, the martyr who ultimately gave his life in his efforts to spread the word of God. Since his death, Livingstone’s famous call for Africa to be opened up to “commerce, Christianity and civilisation” has been levelled against him. He has been blamed for paving the way for the “Scramble for Africa” and the legacy of colonial rule that followed. As inspiration for the large numbers of missionaries who subsequently went to Africa, he has been linked to cultural imperialism. In his emphasis upon slavery, he has been criticised for creating the image of Africa as the hopeless continent, constantly in need of external aid and humanitarian intervention.
Can one man be responsible for so much? Does he deserve his reputation as an evangelist of empire?
Based on historical material found in missionary archives held at SOAS Library, and taking as its focus Livingstone’s early years as a missionary (1840-1856), this exhibition seeks to explore the life and afterlife of this multi-faceted and controversial man. The exhibition examines in detail some of the important personal relationships that developed between Livingstone and key African figures of the period.