The Zambesi Expedition: African Nature in the British Scientific Metropolis
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This thesis investigates the geography in and of Victorian scientific practice by examining the Zambesi Expedition (1858-1864), which was led by the Scottish explorer David Livingstone. A team of assistants accompanied Livingstone: Dr. John Kirk, Dr. Charles Meller, Thomas Baines, Richard Thornton and Charles Livingstone. The official purposes of this expedition, funded by the British Foreign Office, were to catalogue the natural resources of the regions adjacent to the Zambezi River in order to identify new sources of raw materials for British industry and to introduce commercial markets to supplant the slave trade. The scientific results of the Zambesi Expedition have never been catalogued. Only limited attention has been paid to the ways in which science was made in the field and how it returned to Britain In order to address these issues, a survey was made of relevant scientific literature to identify published analyses of the data and specimen collections produced by the Expedition’s staff. Extant specimen collections were located and examined along with archival records and correspondence. The combined manuscript and material evidence reveals that scientific concerns were an important justification for the Expedition. Fieldwork practices are examined in depth and an ideology of technology, expressed in different ways, is shown to have structured the encounters between the British and the locals. The Expedition’s members based their assumed superiority upon technological skill, especially their abilities to understand the environment and to command power—in terms of steam navigation, instrumental authority and the naming of natural productions. Power differentials were apparent in the field when the information possessed by local informants was required for the success of the scientific goals of the expedition. Credibility in the field became a tenuous quality negotiated between local informants, explorers and the metropolitan scientific community. The expedition’s members, as interpreters, were required to navigate the social and physical spaces of the field and the metropolis in order to produce and present credible knowledge. The thesis examines for the first time elements of the reception of the expedition by considering the publication of its scientific results. Critics’ voices are used to uncover those attitudes of the time that judged explorers—and this expedition—according to their prior experiences, social connections and field skills. The work of the Expedition, then, was performed in different spaces and at different scales; operating within and between the field and metropolis and actively linking local practices to global networks. These multivalent practices enabled and circumscribed a British construction of African nature.