by Angela Aliff
(Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
On June 24, our project team launched the beta version of the new Livingstone Online, a truly international collaborative effort representing the efforts of over 20 individuals, 40-odd institutions, and many more friends around the world.
(View a rich selection of pictures from our launch on our Flickr account.)
Director Adrian Wisnicki, Associate Director Megan Ward, and I traveled to the U.K. to celebrate this widespread achievement with two formal talks and a number of informal visits at as many partnering institutions as possible in a week.
Joined in Scotland by Project Scholar Kate Simpson (Edinburgh Napier University), we began our journey on Monday, June 22, at the David Livingstone Centre, a place we affectionately refer to as our project’s spiritual home. Before our tour of the facilities, we exchanged introductions over tea and coffee with DLC staff members Karen Carruthers, Anne Martin, and Alison Ritchie.
The museum itself is housed in Shuttle Row, where David Livingstone’s family lived in the early nineteenth century along with twenty-two other families employed by the local cotton mill. The same rooms and staircases that Livingstone frequented as a boy now contain an impressive collection of books, papers, and artifacts related to his life and travels.
Although we spent our day investigating the nooks and crannies of the exhibits and archive, I would have been just as happy to explore the natural beauty of the Centre’s location. This trip was my first time visiting the David Livingstone Centre, and I quickly realized that online photos of the grounds don’t do justice to their beauty. The exterior features an Explorer’s Garden, a children’s playground, and an impressive display of flowers lovingly maintained by the staff.
On Tuesday, June 23, we toured the University of Glasgow photographic unit, whose work with Livingstone manuscript images will be featured in a critical edition of Livingstone’s final diaries at the conclusion of LEAP.
Later in the day, we ventured to the town of Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, where Livingstone lived in 1862. Our goal was to find the location where he’d written and addressed a number of letters. Thanks to Kate Simpson’s navigational skills, we eventually came upon 17 Burnbank Road, attempting to snap a few archival photos without disturbing the current residents.
Wednesday, June 24, marked the official beta launch of the new site at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where our team of four (Adrian, Megan, Kate, and I) gave a talk on the ideological, technical, pedagogical, and artistic development of Livingstone Online. The event allowed us to celebrate in person with a number of our project collaborators as well as spread the news about the scope of the resources available through Livingstone Online, including an outreach program designed to give teachers resources for incorporating Livingstone into the curriculum.
Before the talk, we visited the NLS special collections to view a series of Livingstone’s field diaries and pages from the 1870 field diary, a multispectral critical edition of which will soon be released on Livingstone Online. Our spectral imaging of the diary will not only make legible the faded text scrawled across newsprint but also reveal the full topography of the manuscript page , an element hitherto hidden to the naked eye.
In the field diaries, we found some of Livingstone’s more colorful sketches, often enhanced with colored pencil, and a variety of collected objects, including a needle with thread, gunpowder carefully wrapped in paper, flowers, cotton, and even the tail of a small creature.
We even found a mysterious, unnumbered field diary, one not accounted for in our records, but in which Livingstone, referencing oppression experienced by both Scots and “Hottentots” and his outrage at the slave trade, writes provocatively, “I would murder a man who would take [my freedom] from me or who would separate my wife and children to different owners.”
On Thursday, June 25, we traveled from Edinburgh to London for the final part of our trip. After our arrival, we visited Jo Ichimura at SOAS University to peruse a small collection of Livingstone papers and artifacts that Jo had assembled from the massive London Missionary Society archive.
I was particularly intrigued by a bound collection of small portraits of young Scottish missionaries, which included both David Livingstone and a Robert Hamilton. I am a Hamilton by birth, and the longer I’ve worked with Livingstone Online, the more unexpected connections I’ve discovered between Livingstone and the Hamilton clan. For example, in 2013 in the archive at the University of Cape Town, Adrian and I, along with Jared McDonald, found a letter that Livingstone had transcribed for Robert Hamilton after Hamilton had fallen ill.
After we left the archive, we joined Jo for coffee and enjoyed a riveting discussion about the complexities and controversies of archiving and displaying materials related to missions and empire.
After meeting with some media representatives on Friday, June 26, our team gave a private talk at the British Library, arranged by Aquiles Alencar Brayner, to an audience consisting of librarians, archivists, and nineteenth-century scholars of various disciplines. Project Director Emeritus Chris Lawrence and his wife Jan joined us for the talk and a launch celebration afterwards at The Boot, a local favorite.
We concluded the trip by reflecting on where the project has come from, what we accomplished during the U.K. trip, and where we’d like to see the project move in the future.
We contemplated our responsibilities as curators who make historical artifacts digitally accessible in ways that can not only preserve and disseminate those artifacts but also provide new, previously inaccessible information. Livingstone’s 1870 field diary, for example, is preserved in plastic pages that flatten the manuscript pages to the naked eye. However, spectral imaging reveals the texture and dimension of the page itself, offering additional clues to the manuscript’s past.
Additionally, we improved our illustrative photo collections to better feature the behind-the-scenes efforts of our team. We believe that the camaraderie among all team members makes Livingstone Online work, and the time we invest in each other strengthens this collaborative spirit, producing quality resources and lasting friendships.