As the LEAP transcription team pursues it work on Livingstone’s final diaries (1866-1873), one element we’ve all noticed is the number of “incidental witnesses” in Livingstone’s manuscripts. What are incidental witnesses?
Each Livingstone diary tells at least two stories. There is the main story, Livingstone’s story, as it appears in the narrative, in the very words that Livingstone wrote on the page. There is also, however, a second story, the diary’s story, that tells what happened to the diary as it accompanied Livingstone.
Specifically, Livingstone’s diary pages contain information about the environments in which he wrote and traveled. Sometimes, given the placement of information (or objects) on the page, it’s clear that the information is there by design, as when Livingstone presses a tree or plant leaf between his diary pages.
In other cases it seems that the information appears there incidentally — that it wasn’t Livingstone’s choice to put it there and, indeed, that he might not have even realized that it was there. Sometimes such information even obscures Livingstone’s own words and, it might be argued, takes the place of those words.
Such incidental information thus bears witness — often the only witness — to some aspect of the nineteenth-century Africa in which Livingstone wrote and traveled. The information can tell us something that Livingstone never did.
Below, we include a few images that we’ve encountered during our recent transcription work that exemplify the points made above. Enjoy!