What does ‘Livingstone Online’ offer its users?

Since its inception in 2006, Livingstone Online has become the leading internet resource for digital versions of David Livingstone’s original manuscripts. We offer both vibrant color images of the manuscripts and detailed transcriptions that allow our users to look, across time, through Livingstone’s eyes as he writes on the page.

“Livingstone writing his journal” (from Stanley, How I Found Livingstone, 1872). (c) David Livingstone Centre.

Many historians and critics regard Livingstone as the single most important British travel writer of the nineteenth century — more so because his writings span the range of his interests: colonialism, exploration, medicine, geography, economics, abolition, religion, African cultural practices, and much, much more.

Users of Livingstone Online can “travel” to libraries and archives around the world to see original manuscripts at speeds that would have been incomprehensible to travelers in the nineteenth century:

“Your note and pamphlets kindly sent [from England] in July 1866 came to hand in Unyanyembe [East Africa] in August 1872” (David Livingstone to William Thompson, November 1872).

Currently our main Livingstone Online site offers images and transcriptions of nearly 500 letters. The letters span the years 1837 to 1873, and so provide an intimate look into almost every important phase of Livingstone’s life (1813-1873).

In the next three years we will be adding over 3500 pages of Livingstone manuscripts from the David Livingstone Centre (near Glasgow) and the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. These institutions have some of the largest and most important collections of Livingstone materials in the world.

David Livingstone Centre. (c) Livingstone Online.
David Livingstone Centre, near Glasgow. (c) Livingstone Online.
National Library of Scotland. (c) Livingstone Online.
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. (c) Livingstone Online.

Additionally, the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project allows visitors to read — for the first time in 140 years — the full texts of Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary and the newly published Letter from Bambarre. Thanks to advances in imaging science, our project has revealed words which are otherwise difficult if, frequently, impossible to read with the naked eye.

The Bambarre letter details Livingstone’s candid thoughts on the East African slave trade, while the 1871 diary captures Livingstone’s first-hand impressions of the horrific Nyangwe slave trading massacre. The diary also chronicles the months leading up to Livingstone’s famous meeting with Henry Morton Stanley: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” (c) Wellcome Library.

[Special thanks to Anne Martin (David Livingstone Centre) and Alison Metcalfe (National Library of Scotland) for their assistance with this post.]

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