Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?: Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers, and Empire

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Overview

When the American reporter Henry Morton Stanley stepped out of the jungle in 1871 and doffed his pith helmet to the Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone, his greeting was to take on mythological proportions. But do any of us really know what his words meant at the time--and what they have come to mean since?

Far from meeting in a remote thicket in "Darkest Africa," Stanley met Livingstone in the middle of a thriving Muslim community. The news of their encounter was transmitted around the globe, and Livingstone instantly became one of the world's first international celebrities.

This book shows how urgently a handshake between a Briton and an American was needed to heal the rift between the two countries after the American Civil War. It uncovers for the first time the journeys that Livingstone's African servants made around Britain after his death, and it makes a case for Stanley's immense influence on the idea of the modern at the dawn of the twentieth century. Drawing on films, children's books, games, songs, cartoons, and TV shows, this book reveals the many ways our culture has remembered Stanley's phrase, while tracking the birth of an Anglo-American Christian imperialism that still sets the world agenda today.

"Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?" is a story of conflict and paradox that also takes us into the extraordinary history of British engagement with Africa. Clare Pettitt shows both the bleakest side of imperialism and the strange afterlife of a historical event in popular mythmaking and music hall jokes.

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Editorial Reviews

Harper's

[Pettitt's] critical look at the personal lives of both men is the best précis available this side of Tim Jeal's 1973 biography of Livingstone—and she writes with a scalpel.
— John Leonard

Washington Times

Ms. Pettitt has a great time recounting every tangential mention of the meeting in song and story while eventually fleshing out minibiographies of both participants.
— John M. Talor and Priscilla S. Taylor

Seven Oaks

This is a short beautifully researched book that looks at how, through the agency of popular culture, the Stanley/Livingstone myth shaped the West's ideas about Africa and about the other, and even contributed to misunderstandings between Christianity and Islam.
— George Fetherling

Foreign Affairs
This entertaining and instructive book sets the Tanzanian encounter between the Scottish explorer David Livingstone and the American journalist Henry Morton Stanley in the broad context of British imperialism, Anglo-American rivalry and reconciliation, and the rise of a transatlantic cult of celebrity.
Choice

Since 1871, countless books, songs, movies, and mementoes have commemorated this iconic cultural event, which retains relevance to some of the largest, most complex issues today: the growth of celebrity culture, technology and the transformation of social relations, and the tricky relationship between the U.S. and Britain. Pettitt lucidly considers the ironies, misperceptions, and complexities of the Stanley-Livingstone encounter.
— G. M. Stearns

Francis Abiola Irele
Clare Pettitt's vivid account of the search for the British missionary, Dr. David Livingstone and the encounter deep in the heart of Africa with the journalist Henry Stanley is a splendid piece of historical reconstruction. It is also an insightful analysis of the interaction between Christian evangelization in Africa and the emergence in the West itself of a new narrative of modernity.
Biodun Jeyifo
This is, quite simply, remarkable. The world of missionaries and explorers, which once held center stage in the imagining of empire and the making of the modern world, comes alive powerfully in its pages. Pettitt elegantly and deftly nudges us towards a necessary engagement with the "global unconscious," wherein old and new racisms and fundamentalisms are co-implicated as much with high-minded liberalism as with conservatism and militarism. This is a work of compelling cultural and historical explanation.
Harper's - John Leonard
[Pettitt's] critical look at the personal lives of both men is the best précis available this side of Tim Jeal's 1973 biography of Livingstone--and she writes with a scalpel.
Washington Times - John M. Talor And Priscilla S. Taylor
Ms. Pettitt has a great time recounting every tangential mention of the meeting in song and story while eventually fleshing out minibiographies of both participants.
Seven Oaks - George Fetherling
This is a short beautifully researched book that looks at how, through the agency of popular culture, the Stanley/Livingstone myth shaped the West's ideas about Africa and about the other, and even contributed to misunderstandings between Christianity and Islam.
Choice - G. M. Stearns
Since 1871, countless books, songs, movies, and mementoes have commemorated this iconic cultural event, which retains relevance to some of the largest, most complex issues today: the growth of celebrity culture, technology and the transformation of social relations, and the tricky relationship between the U.S. and Britain. Pettitt lucidly considers the ironies, misperceptions, and complexities of the Stanley-Livingstone encounter.
Foreign Affairs

This entertaining and instructive book sets the Tanzanian encounter between the Scottish explorer David Livingstone and the American journalist Henry Morton Stanley in the broad context of British imperialism, Anglo-American rivalry and reconciliation, and the rise of a transatlantic cult of celebrity. The celebrated encounter took place in Ujiji, then a thriving, mostly Muslim settlement on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Livingstone, who had trained for a missionary career but focused increasingly on geographic exploration, had fallen ill in the course of a long search for the source of the Nile. Stanley, a correspondent for the brash New York Herald, tracked Livingstone down but failed to persuade him to return with him to Europe. Livingstone went on questing, and died soon after the meeting. The outlines of the story can be quickly told; Pettitt is, rightly, more interested in the media responses to the event than the event itself. Americans saw the meeting as both a triumph of American ingenuity (forestalling feeble British efforts to succor the famous missionary) and a sign of improving relations after the strains of the Civil War. British interpretations were darker. In any event, the story was a media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic and contributed to the rapprochement between the two great Anglophone powers.<

Library Journal

Pettitt (Victorian literature, King's Coll., London; Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel) details the fabled meeting of American reporter Henry Morton Stanley and Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone in the middle of Africa in 1871. Livingstone had been engaged, unsuccessfully, in missionary work there for years and had built a substantial following in England and America through his lectures and his book, Missionary Travels.Stanley was commissioned by the New York Heraldto seek out Livingstone in response to rumors of his death in 1866. When Stanley "found" Livingstone, he used the newly laid transcontinental telegraph cable to scoop his competitors. Around the narrative of this modest but drama-filled event-a milestone in the development of the modern idea of celebrity-Pettitt weaves a story of imperialist attitudes toward the Dark Continent, Western ignorance of and ambivalence toward blacks, and the importance of newspapers in an age of enhanced communication. Her prose is vigorous, and her historical judgment is always on the mark: she also isn't afraid to say what the historical record can't tell us-vide the absence of evidence on the reaction of Livingstone's African servants to their stay in England. Recommended for large general collections and for academic libraries.
—David Keymer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024878
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Series: Profiles in History Series
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Clare Pettitt is Lecturer in Victorian Literature at King’s College London.
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