Africa and Livingstone

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A review of a recent biography of David Livingstone began with the words “His heroic figure looms over the continent”. Discuss constructions of white ‘heroism’ in Africa, focussing on a critical analysis of two  journalistic or non-fiction texts. 

The texts you choose to analyse can be from any historical era or they can be modern, or  you can choose to analyse one historical  text and one modern text but at least one must be by, or about, Livingstone. As this is a Journalism module, one of the texts which you analyse must also be a piece of journalism (so for example, you might choose to compare Livingstone's own work, with how Stanley uses Livingstone's symbolism within his newspaper despatches, or Livingstone's work with a contemporary piece of journalism which uses some aspect of the Livingstone myth).

European writers during the 19th Century depicted Africa as a place of Barbary and disorder which then became the dominant vision of how Europeans viewed Africa. Africa was seen as the ‘Dark Continent’ a mysterious place which lacked the light of European civilization, development, religion and education. Driver argues that “The peculiar power of this myth of the ‘Dark Continent’ lay in its fusion of “a complex of race, science and religion; the iconography of light and darkness thus represented European penetration of Africa as simultaneously a process of dominion, enlightment and emancipation.” (Driver 1991) The landscape of Africa was a place completely new to Europeans and early explorers of the 19 century highlighted the vast differences in travel writing and novels between the towns or rural landscape they were familiar with back at home and the mysterious jungle and open land of Africa. During the end of the late 18th century concerted efforts of people in the abolitionist movement began to protest against slavery, which eventually became outlawed in 1807. However, the fight against colonial slavery took many more years. The abolition of the slavery triggered a huge amount of western exploration in African. Portrayals of Africans during this period (early 19th century) were undoubtedly less derogatory and offensive than that of later years but nevertheless remained patronising . Though Abolitionists fought against slavery they did not view Africans as equals to white Europeans and instead created romantic ideas of Africans as ‘noble savages’ who were childlike and simple minded. Buxton's portrayal of Africa is almost entirely negative: "Bound in the chains of the grossest ignorance, [Africa] is a prey to the most savage superstition. Christianity has made but feeble inroads on this kingdom of darkness" (A, pp. 10-11). The term ‘Noble Savages’ connotes the idea that some societies are able to be redeemed and in the western sense, able to conform and comply with western ruling. The abolition of slavery also meant that “The British began to see themselves less and less as perpetrators of the slave trade and more and more as the potential saviours of the African.” (Geneology)

There are many reasons for the colonisation of Africa One reason has to do with the gathering of scientific knowledge about the ‘dark continent by mainly scientists and geographers. The next reason is self-rooted in Christianity whereby Europeans felt it was their duty to civilize the African people and uplift them from a state of “Barbary.” The final reason is to do with imperialism and ethnocentrism of European people who viewed anyone that was different as being inherently inferior. After the decision to obtain colonies in Africa was made it was up to the writers, academics and poets to create justification for colonisation. During the mid-18th century the English press was beginning to take off with a “Communication revolution that was expanding the quantity of available news and speeding up its transmission to ever increasing audiences.” This expansion led the way to a more sustained and...
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