Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of British Studies 53 (2014), pp. 804-807; doi: 10.1017/jbr.2014.94


Copyright © 2014 Cambridge University Press. Used by permission.


Mid-nineteenth-century British exploration, particularly the stories of the “heroic” individuals who carried out this exploration, remains a topic of worldwide interest, as most recently evidenced by the many events in Britain and Africa celebrating the 2013 bicentenary of David Livingstone’s birth. Dane Kennedy’s intriguing study takes issue with such readings of the historical record by foregrounding an epistemological tension that lies at the heart of nineteenthcentury British exploration discourse and practice. The book examines the collision—as it played out in the exploration of African and Australia—between metropolitan scientific protocols and non-Western quotidian realities. Nineteenth-century explorers, argues Kennedy, left home with complex, institutionally determined objectives, but once abroad they found their goals impeded by local and regional circumstances and came face-to-face with their own helplessness in non-Western contexts. In fact, the methods of nineteenth-century exploration resulted in extended encounters with indigenous populations and compelled the explorers to rely on intermediaries, to use local information in producing scientific data, and to support the agendas of gateway states such as Zanzibar, Tripoli, and Egypt—practices that all ran at odds with metropolitan expectations. The experiences of explorers in the field became the basis, ultimately, of an alienating knowledge that had to be withheld from accounts published in theWest, lest the explorers fail to gain the validation and celebrity status that so many of them craved. Kennedy explains: “It was a hard-won knowledge, the product of dislocation, danger, and desire. It was an intimate knowledge, derived from long periods of contact with other people. It was perforce a secret knowledge, incommunicable to countrymen back home” (262).